Playing the role of both architect and client, Suren Indhul of i3 Lab has actualised his own vision for a recyclable building that is sensitive to the environment. The house in the Simbithi EcoEstate received a KwaZulu-Natal Institute for Architecture Award. The jury commended “the appropriateness of the typology of the pavilion” and “the consistency in following through the design principles.”

Essentially one long rectangular pavilion approximately 24 m by 7.5 m, the main dwelling is positioned along the contour of a north-south slope with a south-facing veranda and monopitched roof open to the north. Concrete stub foundations direct loads to concentrated points of connection between the steel frame of the building and the indigenous garden below. A paved driveway and monopitched garage building on the north are separated from the main house by a pergola-covered courtyard and a shallow reeded rill.

The building is characterised by interconnected open spaces that flow from interior to exterior. Natural light penetrates throughout and a series of manually adjustable screens allow for permutations of openness and intimacy, while helping to manage light and heat levels.

Indhul’s approach to sustainable design was based, not only on practical solutions, but was also informed by the practice of biomimicry and the principles of Vastu, an ancient Vedic philosophy especially concerned with the building plan and spatial elements.  Using simple models of controlling air, temperature and water flow which were borrowed from nature, meant that the expense and wastage relating to HVAC systems, electricity and water was avoided.

Indhul’s building sits snugly in its environment, sited along the contour and allowing for planted growth underneath as well as around its raised footprint. A concrete ground beam connecting a series of piles secures the two buildings on the site with minimal excavations and damage to the surrounding landscape. The absence of retaining walls means that the site conditions of soils and planting have been left intact as much as possible.

The elevation of the main pavilion from the ground below serves a vital purpose in the functioning of the house. Services have been designed to fit below the building as much as possible, allowing maximum use of space on the living level above and easy access to the services from below.

Indhul worked closely with engineer Rob Young of Young and Satharia on the steel frame for the building, designing a lightweight, wide-spanning structure. A drawcard to using structural bolted steel was the recyclability of the material: structural steel has the benefit of a cradle-to-cradle lifespan since it may be easily disassembled and re-used elsewhere, or re-formed into new parts.

The building’s I-beam portal frame supports a suspended ring beam with concrete slab over polystyrene blocks for insulation. These are covered with an innovative flooring system where birch strip flooring panels are secured using Elastilon, an elastic mat which eliminates the need for nails and adhesives.

A simple but tight concept followed through on every level has been translated into a low-maintenance and easy living environment.


* The full article can be found in the October – November 2012 issue. Images: Dennis Guichard (