By Chris Bakker & Leoné Wierenga from GASS Architecture Studio; edited by Leon Louw

GASS Architecture Studio’s unique design in Hermanus, South Africa, takes the vision of the client and inspiration from the Japanese teahouse, the main challenge of this brief was to re-interpret the traditional.

GASS Architecture Studio’s unique design in Hermanus, South Africa. Photo by Herman Dojo GASS

GASS Architecture Studio’s unique design in Hermanus, South Africa. Photo by Herman Dojo GASS

Basic principles of Japanese architecture were employed to create a spatial experience that still encompass the ritual and spiritual aspects, but in a more contemporary expression.

The structure was positioned and designed in such a way to create a visual floating effect with structural elements tying it back to the mountain slope, the exterior deck-line and seemingly flat roof with a deep overhang create a strong sense of horizontality, with a deep recessed vertical structure that fixes the building into a levelled-out plinth disappearing into the natural fynbos landscape.

Lawned terracing steps next to the plinth of the Kyudojo lead you up to the elevated level and resembles the start of the ritual, while also defining a clear line between man-made and the natural surrounding fynbos environment. Strict geometry, balance and rhythm guides the space, creating a calm, harmonious and almost spiritual experience. This is further enhanced by sliding screen doors on three sides allowing the internal space to be extended onto an exterior wrap-around walkway floating above a gravel and rock garden. Posts between sliding doors act as the main structural elements, whilst simultaneously keeping the geometric rhythm and framing the magnificent views of the fynbos covered mountain on the north and beautiful ocean views on the south.

Soft light filters the space from all four sides of the Kyudojo through clerestory windows, which reinforces the concept of the ‘floating’ flat roof. Sliding screen doors with white opaque glass windowpanes also contribute to the magnificent light quality in the space. These doors reference the rice paper screens used in traditional Japanese architecture, whilst ensuring climatic comfort to the inside of the Kyudojo. One solid symmetrical facade roots the structure in ritual and defines the entrance and exit into the space.

Spruce was used for most of the structural timber elements, due to its structural integrity and stability. The pale grey-yellow colour of the timber visually present the dojo as more contemporary – in comparison to the darker colour of the traditional structures.

Garapa, a beautifully finished grey-looking timber which is easy to work with and requires low maintenance, was used for the wrap-around deck. Detailed inlays of Jatoba are introduced on the corners of the deck as a subtle, yet decorative nod to the intricate craftmanship of Japanese Architecture. All timber used was procured from local suppliers who rely on sustainable sourcing.