Casa Severin

Tantalite Valley, Namibia

A new house for a Danish / French mine owner on a farm in southern Namibia where there was once a Tantalite mine and now only the ghost town of the miners village remains.

The ruins of the original farm house sat at the foot of a hill above an underground stream.  The owner’s secretary provided some sketches, and fortunately I was consulted before construction began. 

The local climate, the siting of the old dwelling on the river bed, and the vastness of the landscape (well, by the time I was involved I understand that my client had purchased a total of 5 farms here, with an overall area equaling the size of Lichtenstein!)  and the reclusive nature of my client became the brief.  There were to be no passages, an outdoor terrace, reception areas for large parties on rare occasions, and private quarters for the owner…

The challenge was to design this in sufficient detail, sufficiently robustly, for local builders to be able to get on and build it largely in my absence.  We had all the joinery made in South Africa and railed up to a not too distant siding.  Ditto for the roof sheeting and laminated timber rafters.  The bricks were all made on the site, sand and stone were sourced from the site as well. 

The roof was designed to be Corten steel which unfortunately was not available in time for completion before the new millennium.  Also, the plastering was not carried out to our agreed samples, to be really rough and thrown on - on the exterior – not painted, but using natural aggregates from the site in the render; and the interior plastering was to have been with white cement and the local site sand and small stone inclusions, which I recall shimmering with reds and pinks and greens in the sample we had prepared and approved. 

The lap pool has an adjustable timber slatted roof, to control the amount of light (and evaporative cooling) required, depending on the season.  The sun light moves through the clere storey windows inside the house giving a sense of the time of day without overheating the protective spaces.

The palm trees still grow through the terrace, and the dates need to be protected from the monkeys who come down to find them.  Gum poles, timber ceilings and terra-cotta floors all lend a feeling of natural cool and calm in the heat of the day and reradiate the warmth at night when temperatures can plummet.  Any greenery stands out beautifully against it – as precious as it is in this environment.