Anyone following the ways in which the South African residential sector has changed and evolved in the last three decades will probably have noticed how high density sectional title apartments have not only proliferated in all South Africa’s major urban centres but have in fact become the preferred choice of many people, especially young people – with the result that today a 60 m2 two bedroom apartment in, say, the Cape Town suburbs of Rondebosch, Claremont or Kenilworth will in all likelihood cost much the same as a three bedroom freestanding home in one of the less expensive middle class suburbs such as Fish Hoek or Marina Da Gama.
Furthermore, although the main market for such units is the younger generation, they are steadily gaining favour with older and retired people.
One of the specialists in the design of units for this particular sector has been Gordon Hart. He qualified at University of Cape Town in 1979 and since 1996 has been involved in sectional title developments for Rawson Developers. Looking back on his 18 year association with them, he has designed no less than 2,000 houses, townhouses and apartments on their behalf.
Discussing design matters recently with Rawson Developers staff, Hart said that he had learned that architects in his position have to juggle the often conflicting demands of complying with the City Council’s zoning requirements, keeping within the developer’s financial budget and at the same time remaining highly aware of his responsibility to the environment and the neighbourhood in which the development is taking place.
“In the current market,” said Hart, “it is accepted that units may have to be small and compact. A bachelor unit today may be anything from 25 m2 to 35 m2 in size, a one bedroom unit 35 m2 to 45 m2 and a two bedroom unit 55 m2 or larger. The challenge then is to make these admittedly limited spaces comfortable, efficient and aesthetically pleasing and therefore worth the higher than average prices that they have to sell at if the developer is to stay in business.”
Today’s architects, said Hart, have learned how to eliminate “circulation” and dead space, i.e. corridors and similar areas which simply link one space to another. This makes it possible to optimise the size of living areas and bedrooms.
Architects have also, he said, learned how to combine kitchen and living areas into open-plan configurations, thereby making them suitable for food preparation, dining and socializing in a general way.
“The challenge here has been made a great deal easier,” said Hart, “by the huge aesthetic improvements that material manufacturers have brought about through the use of melamine, granite, marble, Formica, stainless steel, engineered and laminated wood and a whole array of high gloss finishes. Even sanitary ware today has often been made very appealing and many kitchen fittings are now aesthetically attractive and quite suitable for being in a living area.”
Space, too, said Hart, is increasingly saved by not having baths in the bathroom (a term that is often no longer applicable) and many people actually prefer a shower to a bath.
The aim, he said, is always to create chic, well lit interiors that are at the opposite end of the scale from the dark cavernous heavily carpeted, heavily wooded rooms of yesteryear. Finishes such as tiling or laminated flooring in place of carpets and down-lighting in place of pendant light fittings help to give sectional title units appeal for today’s buyers.
In his designs, added Hart, he strives if possible to have balconies because, although many apartment dwellers say that they can live happily without their own gardens, they still appreciate the open air. Similarly, if possible some of the site should be set aside for a quiet landscaped garden area, although the incorporation of swimming pools is always a dubious benefit because they can be noise generators. However gyms and laundries, if there is space for them, are always much appreciated.
Hart said that improved security is now one of the big draw cards of high density sectional title living. In most of the designs with which he is involved, security fencing and automatic gates or guard houses at the entrance to the complex are the norm. Similarly, it is now common practice to have concierges on duty round-the-clock and to have guards on patrol at night.
Zac Jefferson, a member of the Hart team, added that for many people the time in which they live in sectional title units is limited. With increased earnings and career success they later move on to freestanding homes. However, he said, the big advantage for many people of such homes is that they facilitate a very independent lifestyle because the resident is able to lock up and go as and when it suits him without any risk to his property.
Summing up, Gordon Hart said that taking all factors into consideration, sectional title units in high density areas have not only become an accepted way of life but are, in fact, beneficial to communities and play an important part in making enjoyable lifestyles possible.