We head out to the Waterberg mountains to meet a retired veterinary couple who built House of the Big Arch, an incredible home that was created to have as minimal an impact on its breathtaking environment as possible.

Occupying a unique place in a nature reserve among landscapes of plants, trees, breath-taking cliffs and impressive wildlife, we find House of the Big Arch. This architectural beauty in the Waterberg mountains of South Africa is perfect for the thrill-seeker wanting to be as close to nature as possible without impacting the surrounding environment.

The homeowners are both retired veterinarians who have a deep connection to animals and nature, and wanted to feel part of the environment. We meet homeowner Nadine who shares a little insight into the inspiration for the project and passion for the location.     

“The reason we came to live in Waterberg in Limpopo was our love of the bush. I grew up in Phalaborwa and my soul is at peace in the bush.” 

“The brief given to us was in theory a really simple one, to create a house amongst the trees within the tree canopy, and to not demolish a single tree. In practicality though, that’s a really complex brief,” conveys architect Ant, from Frankie Pappas International before explaining that the solution was an off-grid brick residence that is just 3.3 meters (11 feet) wide and consists of a few small buildings. 

“We designed the 3.3 meter buildings as a way of hiding them the best way we could within the bush. Any bulges and protrusions to this long, skinny building are dictated by the layout of the trees and the geography of this particular site. Additionally, we planted almost all of the roofs with natural vegetation, and this was a way of further hiding the house within the landscape,” explains Ant. 

Images supplied by (Dook for VISI)

The trees dictated having a very narrow entrance, so the team exaggerated the height to symbolise it being the entry of a very special home. The approach takes you up to the kitchen, which sits inside the skinny portion of the building that also holds the lounge, the dining room, and the outside deck.  

Each and every piece of material used was with sustainability in mind. To connect the building with the landscape rough stock bricks were chosen for the house’s construction, while other parts of the home have been built from sustainably-grown timbers, and glass and aluminum fill in the non-structural wall. To ensure that the house can function off-grid, water from the roofs is collected and filtered through the forest, while grey-water is stored and processed before being filtered by the undergrowth. In addition, energy is harvested by 16 square meters (172 square feet) of solar panels. 

When asked about her favourite space, Nadine shares, “It’s got to be the deck. It’s the place that I sit and listen to the birds in the morning, and just basically come to grips with the day before I move on.”   

The House of the Big Arch, which has been shortlisted for a Residential Architectural Property Award in The International Design and Architecture Awards, is spectacular and unique in its sensitivity to its surroundings and the adjustments that have been made to achieve the smallest footprint.