House Laubscher (341 Brooklyn Road, Pretoria)

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GISKEY (Input giskey if applicable)
Condition Very good condition. Only one of the three planned structures was built.
Date of origin The plans were commissioned and drawn in 1993. Construction of the house was completed in 1996
Previous names It has always been known as House Laubscher, but it may have been referred to as the Art House when it was a gallery and now as the PIA offices.
Place Near the corner of Brooklyn Road and Justice Mohammed Street (formerly Charles Street)
Street 341 Brooklyn Road
Town Pretoria
Magisterial district Tshwane
Province Gauteng
Country Republic of South Africa
GPS coordinates  25°46'17.00"S,  28°15'7.00"E
Planning authority name City Council of Pretoria (This now falls under the City of Tshwane Metropolitan Municipality since 2000)
Architect/Firm Ora Joubert Architects
Project architect/Designer Ora Joubert
Commissioning owner Cornelius Laubscher
Current owner Pretoria Institute for Architecture
Current occupant Pretoria Institute for Architecture
Previous uses Residential dwelling, art gallery, office building.
Current use Offices for the Pretoria Institute for Architecture
Classification/Typology Residential dwelling, now used as offices.
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House Laubscher has architectural significance in that it explores the modern concepts of movement through space and it makes use of Le Corbusier's Domino system for its structure (Architecture SA 1994) and yet is adapted and modified through design in order to suit the South African climate and context. It follows a series of work done by the architect, Ora Joubert, in exploring the expression of three-dimensional space and "geometric metamorphosis" (Fisher 2012). The building is a timber pole construction with a thatch roof that fits into the african context well in terms of material use and climate-responsive design. 

In terms of historical and cultural significance, the building echoes a certain tendency at the time to find a new South African aesthetic in architecture. It shows a need to reject the old - namely Apartheid - and find common ground in the 'New South Africa' through architecture. It brings together the European - in terms of Le Corbusier's Domino system - and the African - in terms of timber pole and thatch construction - to form a new style in residential design.

The design project obtained a Project Award from Architecture SA in 1994 (Architecture SA 1994) and was also awarded the South African Institute of Architects (SAIA) Award of Merit in 1997 after the construction of House Laubscher was completed.

Current known heritage status

House Laubscher has no current legal heritage status. However, it obtained an Award of Merit from the South African Institute of Architects in 1997 and thus has significance to a wide community. This constitutes a kind of protection as the interested parties will be against any major changes to the building.  

Possible interested and affected parties


Ora Joubert was commissioned by Cornelius Laubscher and his friends in 1993 and the brief was to build a group housing scheme on the site on Brooklyn Road (Kromberg 1997). The site originally formed part of a larger site that included a thatch house designed by Helmut Stauch in the 1950's (Architecture SA 1994) and thus both the client and the architect decided that the new buildings should also have thatch roofs. The site itself was awkwardly shaped and had a difficult orientation to work with as well as many large trees that were to be kept if possible (Architecture SA 1994). In addition to this, an old stone wall formed part of the boundary wall on the north-eastern side of the site and this was to be incorporated into the design and planning of the site (Architecture SA 1994).

The architect, Ora Joubert, designed three houses on the site that fit the client's requirements of a group housing scheme. The three separate structures fit in between the trees and were carefully orientated and designed in order to afford some privacy to each of the three dwellings (Architecture SA 1994). The timber pole structure of the first house was erected first and the thatch roof was put on before the internal walls were built (Architecture SA 1994). This clearly shows the destinction between structure and infill as the internal walls are not load-bearing but are rather used to express the spaces within the building (Architecture SA 1994). The underside of the thatch roof is left exposed and double volumes are created within the building to allow the beams, rafters and thatch to be visible from numerous points within the dwelling (Architecture SA 1994). 

A possible precedent for this design is Le Corbusier's Zurich Pavilion (Architecture SA 1994). The Zurich Pavilion - also known as the Heidi Weber Pavilion - consists of an umbrella roof over two cubes that form the building envelope independently of the actual structure (Glynn 2006). A similar principle is adopted in the design of House Laubscher in terms of the thatch roof with timber pole construction and then the geometric forms that were inserted into the space below the structure. This allowed for a great deal of flexibility in design in terms of possible spaces that could be created below the roof and structure. It also allowed the architect to extend some of the walls and thus the spaces beyond the roof-line of the structure while still maintaining the overall reference to a "long house" or "barn vernacular" (Architecture SA 1994).

The other two houses in the scheme were not built and this allowed for a larger garden space for the building.

Description of alterations with dates affected

House Laubscher was converted into office space for the Pretoria Institute of Architects. Though they did not change the structure of the building, they did change the colour of the painted walls to suit their branding. They also built a larger parking area just south of the building in order to accommodate the employee vehicles and visitors parking. 

Description of site and/or structures and/or interior spaces

House Laubscher is a residential dwelling with two levels. The roof is made of timber poles and thatch and is supported by 150mm diameter gum poles. Each structural element consists of two gum poles that are fixed into the ground and one pole that is fixed between the two at first floor level using steel bolts. Timber poles span across the different structural column elements as beams and these support the rafters of the roof. Glazing is fixed directly to the timber poles using silicon to form a clerestory that aids in letting daylight into the building and the first floor in particular (SA Architectural Digest 1998). Non-structural brickwork is used as infill just behind the columns and also to add more distinction to the interior spaces. Some spaces between the brickwork are filled in with frameless glazing or timber-framed doors. The sliding doors do not open outwards or inwards but rather slide into the walls between the two skins of brickwork (Architecture SA 1994). 

Some of the brickwork is left unplastered and unpainted, but with flush joints between the bricks to give a relatively flat finish. Other parts of the brickwork are plastered and painted in different vibrant colours. The original colours included blue, purple and yellow to accentuate the different spaces and geometric forms (Kromberg 1997). Since then, the colours have changed to a pale olive green and blue (as shown in the photographs). 

There are two main geometric forms used within the building - namely squares and circles that are protruded upwards in order to create geometric volumes within the building. These volumetric forms enhance the contrast of enclosed, private space and open, free space (Architecture SA 1994). The kitchen is situated in the one square to the middle of the building on the ground floor. This square protrudes out of the building to the north east and into a semi-circular space bounded by a curved, facebrick wall that forms a small courtyard. The other square within the building housed the bedroom on the ground floor and links through to the circular space used for the bathroom. On the upper level, the square and circle housed the same functions as the lower level - namely a bedroom and bathroom respectively. The space above the kitchen was used as a study. On the ground floor, between the different spaces, are the intended dining and lounge areas and the entrance foyer. Now that the building is being used as office space, the two bedroom areas and the study have all been furnished as offices to afford some privacy to the people working there. The spaces between these geometrical forms are then used mainly for visitors and for circulation through the building. 





North elevation.JPG

This photograph shows the northern elevation of the building. The cylindrical form in the foreground houses the bathrooms on the two separate levels. (Photo taken by Whitaker, M. 2011)

South elevation.JPG

This photograph shows the southern elevation of House Laubscher. The timber pole structure is clearly expressed. (Photo taken by Whitaker, M. 2011)


The 'back yard' of the house has a small patio area with seating. This is currently used as the main entrance to the offices of the PIA. (Photo taken by Ortmann, K. 2012)

Kristel Ortmann 2012 House Laubscher Western wall.JPG

This image shows the non-structural facebrick walls with the sliding doors between. (Photo taken by Ortmann, K. 2012)

House Laubscher Kitchen.JPG

The kitchen in House Laubscher is in the centre of the ground floor and is accessible from the main entrance foyer as well as the dining/lounge area. (Photo taken by Ortmann, K. 2012)


This photograph shows the clerestory glazing that is installed all along the edge of the connection to the roof. The glazing is fixed directly into the timber with structural sealant.(Photo taken by Ortmann, K. 2012)

Stairs and landing.JPG

This photograph shows the stairs and the landing with its steel balustrade. Originally, only the landing had a balustrade but the staircase did not. This has since changed due to safety concerns. (Photo taken by Ortmann, K. 2012)

Interior corner.JPG

This photograph shows the level of detail of design that the architect worked in. The different materials meet elegantly to form this corner space. (Photo taken by Ortmann, K. 2011)

Bathroom window.JPG

The bathroom on the ground floor has a large window over the bath. This image also shows the different volumetric shapes that fit together independently of the structural elements of the building. (Photo taken by Ortmann, K. 2012)

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