The three levels “Lulu Kati Kati House” sited too steep to be a road, located in the middle of suburban Melville, Johannesburg. This house designed by Kate Otten Architects, suspended between the urban high street and the Melville nature conservancy; suspended between the natural rock face and an 80 year Dombeya tree; suspended, quite literally, from 6 massive gum poles, 9,5m high, each weighing over half a ton. Building and landscape are integrated and intertwined. Views are framed, exposed, focused, created, and reflected.
The house is entered at street level, at the middle level of the building, through a courtyard of tall, indigenous trees, alongside a pond and across a bridge. The middle level is a continuous horizontal space suspended in the landscape of the tree. Cooking, living and eating occur here, opening onto a large balcony organically worked into the branches of the tree. The top level houses the sleeping areas. Here the roof floats above high level windows lifting your focus towards the sky.
The bottom level is cave-like, anchored to the rock and the earth. The rock face is incorporated into the internal space. This level has a bathroom, kitchenette and large playroom opening onto a patio, stone terraced garden, ponds and a bio-pool. This is a green building – unofficially achieving a platinum rating. The design incorporates natural lighting, ventilation, heating and cooling. Solar energy is used to heat domestic water and for space heating in winter. Re-claimed, re-cycled and on-site materials are used as well as local labour and skills. The sun-screens are made from invader plants; insulation and privacy screens from re-cycled plastic cut into plant-like forms. Rain water is collected, circulated and filtered through ponds and a reed bed to the bio-pool. Bursts of colour in the building reflect the same in the surrounding landscape – the pink ‘wing-wongy’ bay window takes its cue from the pink Kapok tree and magenta Bougainvillea; the green and blue bath box from the blue Plumbago. Views change with the changing nature and colour of the seasons and cycles of a day – the experience of these changes is heightened by the building. – Kate Otten Architects