The House of the Future.

A Case Study House outside Johannesburg pioneered the house of the future.
And it still feels like home.

Published: September 2016
Video/Photos: Karl Rogers / Elsa Young / Stand 47

In 1945 a remarkable architectural experiment began. The return of American soldiers from Europe after World War II signalled the beginning of a housing boom in the US. However, while modernist architecture was well known and influential in architecture circles, it didn’t have much mainstream traction. Some of the most famous examples, such as Swiss modernist pioneer Le Corbusier’s design for Villa Savoye, had been designed in the late 20s, but the average person still didn’t know much about the flat-roofed steel, glass and concrete houses that were at the cutting edge of architecture.

 

The intense industrial research during the war brought about new materials and technologies that changed the way houses were built. After the war, there was a forward-looking spirit in the air, so the timing was good to introduce the public to new ideas.

 

A group of idealistic architects and editors at Arts & Architecture decided to change that. Their aim was to make modern architecture accessible to the average American and made certain they didn’t miss the boom. They immediately commissioned eight of the top modernist architects in the country at the time to design affordable, easy-to-build prototypes for modernist homes as a showcase. The materials were supplied by various manufacturers and the houses were built and opened to the public for a period of time. To complete the project, people moved into the homes and documented their experience of living in a modern home.

 

By 1948, six Case Study Houses were built and they had more than 350 000 visitors. Most of them were around Los Angeles, California. The programme continued until 1966, by which time a further 36 houses had been designed and built.

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Stand 47’s reclaimed parquet floors create a sense of familiarity and warmth that belie its cutting-edge materials and technology.

 

The success of the programme can be seen in the design’s DNA of every modern or contemporary house built today. The experiment is testimony to the fact that if people could see or experience new ideas for themselves, they would be open to them.

 

Arts & Architecture stated that the Case Study Houses should be “suited to the expression of man’s life in the modern world”. More than 50 years later “life in the modern world” has evolved. Energy requirements have changed; the demands we place on our homes have increased. However, most of the time we continue to build with traditional building materials, even though new building technologies and materials exist.

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Stand 47’s reclaimed parquet floors create a sense of familiarity and warmth that belie its cutting-edge materials and technology.
 
The idea was to create a house that is not only sustainable, but makes the people who live in it more comfortable, happier, healthier and, as the official description says, “maybe even wealthier”.
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Design aficionado and marketing maestro Gavin Rooke decided to build a new Case Study House to explore the potential of new materials to “build better homes”. He worked with architect Karlien Thomashoff to design a house on Monaghan Farm, an eco-estate outside Lanseria, which explores the architecture and materials of the 21st century. It explores the idea of sustainability and embraces a modern lifestyle.

 

But, as Thomashoff puts it, “people don’t generally want to live in ‘machines’, regardless of how well they perform”. The idea was to create a house that is not only sustainable, but makes the people who live in it more comfortable, happier, healthier and, as the official description says, “maybe even wealthier”. The way we live now and developments in technology mean that the home is a workspace as much as the office is. And people often have more than one working life anyway – accountant by day, blogger by night. The design of your house should acknowledge that.

 

So, while the house dubbed Stand 47 uses light steel construction, modern drywalling, double glazing and the likes of Rhino Wood as a sustainable alternative for door and window frames, all of which improve its efficiency and performance, it doesn’t feel like a machine.

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The plush upholstery and mid-century-inspired furnishings in the bedroom convey a modern sense of comfort, demonstrating that the house of the future can be comfortable and familiar, too.
The bathroom is cleverly partitioned with two access points and a door that acts as a divider to enhance energy efficiency and versatility.
The bed in the guest bedroom folds away neatly into the wall unit, converting the room into a study area.
The pitch of the roof has been chosen for maximum passive heating and cooling efficiency, and supports a bank of photovoltaic cells that generate Stand 47’s electricity.
The living area is light, airy and comfortable. The widows are all double glazed and the wall in the entrance area clad in stone to create a reassuring sense of texture and earthiness, despite the fact that Stand 47’s materials are modern and efficient in the extreme.
Stand 47’s seamless indoor-outdoor design accommodates a contemporary South African lifestyle, and is masterfully integrated with its setting.

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With the bed folded away seamlessly, the guest room instantly becomes a study.

When you walk in, it has a sense of calm and comfort that you can’t quite put your finger on. That sense begins with the acoustic performance of the walls, mostly from Saint-Gobain. The temperature is comfortable too, yet there is hardly any need for artificial heating or cooling. Between the performance of the insulation and the home’s passive design – its careful orientation based on an analysis of natural heating and cooling from the sun and air – it doesn’t need them. When it does, there’s the option of a heat pump, which extracts warmth from the atmosphere. The quality of the light brings clarity and visual comfort to your surroundings. The walls have a technology that extracts volatile organic compounds from the air, making it healthier to breathe. And the fire rating introduces a sense of safety and security.

 

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With the bed folded away seamlessly, the guest room instantly becomes a study.

Unlike the alienating picture of the future as a technology-filled space station, Stand 47 feels like a home. At the entrance, a wall clad in stone introduces a reassuring sense of solidity and texture. Reclaimed parquet floors feel natural and warm underfoot. Even from the outside, the aesthetic of the house references the Transvaal Regionalists, a group of architects who pioneered modernism in the 20th century, introducing local sensitivity to the international idea. It looks appropriate in its context and is thoughtfully placed, unobtrusive on the landscape.

 

Nevertheless, Stand 47 generates more electricity than it needs to operate, with photovoltaic roof panels pumping electricity back into the grid (or, in principle, charging your electric vehicle). And it harvests its own rainwater.

Stand 47 generates more electricity than it needs to operate, with photovoltaic roof panels pumping electricity back into the grid (or, in principle, charging your electric vehicle).

Its sustainability is also enhanced by the principle of flexibility. The use of light steel construction made it possible to design the floor and ceiling as a single span. That means that, apart from the kitchen and bathrooms, walls can be removed and reconfigured according to your changing needs as families change and grow. Without interfering with services like electricity or messing up the floors and ceilings, walls can be made and taken away in just a few days. This means that there is very little waste and the house has the potential to last longer as it can adapt to the needs of the people who live in it.

 

As Rooke says, the idea of Stand 47 is not just about the technology, but about how the technology can build a “better home” – one that is luxurious and comfortable, but at the same time efficient. It proves that new technology and materials need not be strange and alienating.

 

An ongoing experiment monitors the home’s performance. On the home’s website, you can check a continuing record of its performance – the temperature inside compared to outside. You can even apply to stay there. Almost every weekend guests experience a night in the home of the future for themselves and their report-backs testify to its success.

 

It’s comforting to know that the future still feels like home.

 

Read more about Stand 47, with details of its construction, principles and performance at www.stand47.co.za.