Swartberg House, found near Prince Albert in the Karoo, eloquently embraces and enhances its environment through meaningful design collaboration and innovative practices.

On the edge of the Karoo, near the Swartberg mountains, sits Swartberg House – a four-bedroom home that eloquently falls into lockstep with its environment and encourages its inhabitants to coincide peacefully with nature.

Found near Prince Albert – a small town at the foot of the Swartberg Pass – Swartberg house is owned by publisher David Jenkins and Openstudio founder Jennifer Beningfield, who together wanted a home that finds congruency with the power of the landscape that surrounds it.

“I created the Swartberg house because I was interested in making something that was very particular to that particular place. A friend of my asked if this was my dream house, and I said well, there’s not an abstract dream house, but there’s only a house that’s right for a particular place and context”, says Jennifer.

Build in the traditional style of the area, and leveraging cubist philosophies, Openstudio leveraged local building expertise and used construction techniques found in other Karoo architectures – including roughcast lime-washed plaster walls.

“The house rises up as a Karoo-minimalist peaceful farmhouse”, says Sally Arnold, botanical artist and designer. That the house is relatively bare and lacks adornment is a conscious choice – they (Jennifer, David, and Iris) don’t want any distractions from just being here and relaxing.”

With varying room heights and brick-on-edge floors, Swartberg House executes a thoughtful design by integrating environmental stoicism, where the building itself reacts to both night and day as well as different seasons. LED lights, for example, are concealed around the windows to emulate the flow of daytime light, while walls themselves are scattered with thin windows to bring in shafts of light.

“Swartberg House does something very interesting with the environment that it’s in”, says Jennifer. “It’s very hot and very cold – it’s extreme. But rather than rely on artificial means to regulate that temperature, the house itself does it; and by doing that, people have to understand a more direct relationship with the natural world.”

For Jennifer, integrating Swartberg House with its environment enhances the sense of how construction can influence a local and its climate. Among other integrations with the Karoo landscape, the grounds of the house itself embraces Karoo biodiversity with the use of drought-tolerant Karoo trees and shrubs from the succulent Karoo biodome. 

“The Karoo is essential to the way I see things – it’s about clarity, it’s about power, it’s not ambiguous – it’s about the ability to see far and wide”, says Sally, referencing how Swartberg House embraces its Karoo environment. “For Jennifer, it’s about the power of volumes – it had to be a really big, strong statement to sit comfortably in this landscape”.

For Jennifer, the power of collaboration means that various elements, approaches, and expertise can be amalgamated to execute a design that is thoughtful and enhances its environment. From choices in design, construction, arrangement, and purpose, Swartberg House defines its landscape as much as its landscape defines the building itself.

“It has its own life, it has its own character, and it will have its own future”, concludes Jennifer.