Habitat Nov/Dec 2016

See the November/December article, on our Fresnaye project, in Habitat and Jenny's raw text below:



Architecture: Jenny Mills Architects

Interior furnishing: Rudolph Jordaan

Structural Engineers: Noel de Villiers

Project Manager and Contractor: Hardman Construction and Martin de Waal

Location: Fresnaye Cape Town

Photography: Adam Letch, some exteriors by Rob Mills



Cape Town has a fast growing number of semi-transient residents from abroad who more and more are becoming ‘locals’. Most have access to desirable locations worldwide, yet they choose to spend much of their time here. And it’s not hard to see why – in July this year, Cape Town topped Travel and Leisure’s list of the world’s top cities to visit, just the latest in its many other accolades.

Another is that WSGN – the Global trend authority – has set up home in the central City’s Ideas Cartel. Architect Jenny Mills says that “our client has been in and out of Cape Town for the last 25 years and now chooses to spend most of his time here. To us he is an ‘international local’, the kind of person likely to give the best advice on restaurants, niche shopping and spectacular ‘hole in the wall’ food outlets.”


The brief Mills was given was for a dramatic suspended pool penthouse – a glamorous urban apartment set on the slopes above Fresnaye - a ‘sky pool’ apartment. The previous house was built by the client 20 years ago (also featured in Habitat at the time). This house was basically rebuilt, the renovation was so extensive, and the roof was replaced with a double level pool penthouse accessed separately from the upper road. It is now a double dwelling with two units on the same property.

The lower house with generous lawn is still full of glamour and has equally breath-taking views. “The client’s other homes in the US - a unique Provincetown property and a substantial New York loft - provided some competition for our Lion’s Head penthouse. The pool penthouse beat them and won hands down. He is busy selling the other homes and making Cape Town his primary residence.”

Mills adds that “the world of design ideas is widely accessible, and this is good. People can share and cut and paste with very successful outcomes. As architects, we however, have a specific skill to visualise and conceptualise form and space. In doing this we accommodate the requirements of the project and its relationship to its environment. When we build, we make large, living sculptures.


“This house was an opportunity to make a building that has a strong presence as a sculpture and also a very strong connection to its environment and views. We used a reduced palette of concrete greys and white. This muted colour selection allows the play of light and shadows to be more visible. “It is a dynamic composition of massive horizontal and vertical planes of concrete, glass and plastered surfaces. External light plays are exquisite, internal lighting in the evenings an enhancement beyond expectation.


Our rather fanatical love for the Venetian architect Carla Scarpa called us into a game of ledges, edges and eyebrows that we could not resist and that our massive planar design game also needed. The contractor raised his eyebrows, sighed, cursed a bit and then did a superb job of building them to perfection. Thank you!”


From the upper road one can look straight through the house with the horizon line of the sea virtually uninterrupted. The house has a transparency. The glazed panel in the living room that frames the view of Lion’s Head has a similar one in the dressing room of the main bedroom.

The landscape is consistently present. Great care was taken to favour the mountain view as much as that of the sea. “We redesigned the staircase completely at an early stage to make it a smaller gesture (from the top level) and in this careful reconfiguration achieved an unbroken view from the main living level of Lion’s Head. We redesigned the staircase again and again to optimise the views from the library/wine space; eventually opting for a partial spiral to solve the tricky problem and gain the beautiful Lion’s head views. It also became an incredible staircase, built on site by a master craftsman,” says Mills.

“There are many aspects of the design of this house that may not be easy to understand, even though their effect is easy to appreciate. One example of this is the height we managed to achieve for the views back to Lion’s head on the lower bedroom level. The pool is at the front of the house where one’s views look down. We used the depth of the pool at the front of the house (ie the void behind the pool on the bedroom level) to create the high level windows in the dressing room area.”

For the client this house is a sculpture that functions well and with intelligence. He talks about how incredible it is, how it feels - snug and warm, yet open and expansive, a house you can ‘wear’.

He talks about what a pleasure it is to sit and watch ships pass in the ocean far below, the sunset colours reflected on the sea, the way the soft, tranquil light of the morning reflects on the ceiling, the way the landscape views are held and framed by the structure. He remarks about the seasonal changes and the play of light and colour on the shapes and forms of the house. There may be many more reasons why the client loves the house so much. It’s a well-contained space that lives outwardly to its environment. Visitors have remarked about feeling as if they are in a cave high on the mountain, a simple looking shell that does a lot.


Jenny Mills says that there were many structural and other challenges. “The team dealt with all with passion and confidence. The contractor and project manager were particularly energetic and solution driven, able to both translate and participate in the design process. For the project manager the ‘wall of wine’ was his ‘baby’ in terms of concept and realisation, a showstopper. The structural engineer certainly had some challenges supporting the large suspended pool and its live load. The contractor and formwork supplier did elaborate dancing exercises to achieve the off-shutter concrete and signature ledges and ‘eyebrows’.

“The client’s main frustration with us is that we haven’t been able to capture the magnificence of the structure as he experiences it in any of our photographic shoots. We will certainly keep trying.”