Property: Boxing Clever

Text: Alexander Opper
Styling: Sven Alberding
Photographs: Greg Cox

Architect Gregory Katz reinterprets Le Corbusier’s famous Dom-Ino as a 21st-century Johannesburg version of a machine for living in.

For architect Greg Katz, the design of several family homes in Johannesburg’s northern suburbs has served as a testing ground for his maturing practice. His own brand-new home represents the most recent example of this attitude.

At his house, on a balmy late-summer afternoon, Greg relayed an uncommon aesthetic preference: ‘I love the raw, pared-down visual quality of generic parking garages.’

Greg and Caryn’s home commands a self-assured yet unassuming presence. Its street-facing façade presents a restrained palette of materials, colours and textures. Concrete grey and the soft pinkish-red of its expressive brickwork inform the home’s overall character. A Mediterranean blue announces the slender front door and a punchy yellow emphasises carefully placed door and window openings.

Greg’s affinity for concrete was honed over a decade ago in the family’s first purpose-built house. Three kids later, this home is softer and more nuanced than its predecessor. It’s a fine example of the versatility permitted by a concrete skeleton. The Katz’s house sits comfortably in the lineage of structural concrete-frame potential that Le Corbusier stimulated over a century ago, with the 1914 launch of his famous Dom-Ino concrete frame.

Always searching for fresh uses for existing materials, Greg came upon an unusual decommissioned bevelled brick. He used its sill-like character in a playful way for the home’s non-load-bearing walls. The result echoes the beautifully textured nature of the brick infill façades of a bygone Johannesburg era.

The use of brickwork, even though precise and controlled, is playful. The bevelled brick is turned this way and that, accomplishing a crisp, pleated texture. This approach lends the home’s façades a fabric-like quality, evoking the famous German architect and writer Gottfried Semper’s reminder to us that some of architecture’s earliest walled enclosures were, in fact, made using textiles.

Bureaux House Katz
A view from the spiral staircase, leading up to Greg’s studio, back to the main dwelling. The falling site allows for the underside of the home to be used to stow away larger kids’ toys and other items that cannot be stored inside the house. The same principle applies to the alley-like space to the left, between the home’s southern façade and the boundary wall to the neighbour. Here we also see the half flight of stairs that serves as the shortest route between the home and the studio building.
Bureaux House Katz
The modest two-storey studio building occupies the south-eastern corner of the property. Downstairs it houses Caryn’s studio, where she shares her enthusiasm for the Alexander Technique with her clients. Upstairs is where Greg and his small team dream up future architectural visions. The building is made of a lightweight steel framework entirely clad in what is traditionally a roofing material: an asphalt-coloured shingle, made of only 2 mm-thick recycled rubber sheets, finished with a silicate coating (with a 20-year lifespan!). The circular pavers are not actual pavers, but the residue from the pouring of the coffered slabs for House Katz. Instead of letting it go to waste, Greg asked the builders to pour the small amount of concrete leftover from each newly mixed batch into a circular container. Once set, these circular shapes were popped out and stored to ultimately become a playful walkway between Caryn and Greg’s studios.
Bureaux House Katz
The view from the spacious kitchen, looking towards the home’s central fireplace and the staircase that connects the ground and upper floor. The stairwell acts as a generous source of natural light for the core of the home. The kitchen cabinetry employs a unifying finish of special lightweight plywood. The dynamic blue and grey chevron floor effectively unite all the aspects of the ground floor living spaces. Ambient lighting sources are neatly tucked into the coffering of the in-situ cast concrete ceiling. Under the staircase, the red stretcher-bond brickwork acts as an understated internal reminder of the importance of brickwork in this project.
Bureaux House Katz
Zackary, perched atop the extra-high windowsill in his bedroom. Greg has nudged the windows at first-floor level upward, to the underside of the house’s structural concrete frame. This approach encourages a dreamy relationship between the occupants of the rooms and the treetops and broad skies of suburbia. Through the yellow-framed window, we also see the double-level studio, housing Greg and Caryn’s workplaces, less than a stone’s throw from the house.
Bureaux House Katz
A view from one of the two shared bathrooms, back into Charlie’s bedroom.
Bureaux House Katz
Exposed concrete hammer-textured staircase to the upper floor.
Looking back towards the entrance to Greg and Caryn’s open-plan bedroom we see how all washing and bathing facilities are arranged against the east-facing wall. Beautiful fittings and carefully chosen and choreographed tile colours and sizes are celebrated in this parental space of refuge.
Bureaux House Katz
With the house and studio in the background, Greg and Caryn admire the architect’s handiwork. One of a handful of pleasurable amenities distributed across the site, the eccentric triangular-shaped swimming pool wedges itself comfortably into the north-eastern corner of the property. The fact that it’s raised means that the pool itself creates its own protective edge, dispensing with the need for a traditional pool fence.