Tag Archive for: eco-friendly building

Andy Horn at his office in Cape Town ©David Peter Harris

Andy Horn at his office in Cape Town ©David Peter Harris




An architect with a profound appreciation for nature, Andy Horn established his practice in 1998, Eco Design – Architects and Consultants. Sustainable design is key to his work and the studio has led the way for the Green Building Movement in the South Africa and it has received a number of international sustainable building awards. We were lucky  to meet him at his studio in Cape Town.

“Things in nature are cyclical and we must build in holistic ways, using natural resources in harmony with nature; water should be harvested from the rain, used efficiently and recycled. Energy should come from the sun. Structures should be built with non-toxic or moon phase harvested timber or bamboo rather than steel and concrete. Walls can be made with natural and recycled materials like, earth block, cob, rammed earth, stone, urbanite, straw bale, hemp-lime, sandbag and timber. Roofing insulation can come from nature where roofs are planted and insulated with healthy natural materials like wool, cork or recycled paper. Finishes should be non-toxic; like healthy breathing natural plasters, and zero V.O.C paints. “

Different shades

There are different shades of green and you can do your bit, starting at home with energy efficient appliances and LED lights moving on to more renewable sources of energy like solar, wind and biogas, we need to look at energy saving as an investment over time rather than simply the up-front cost. Conscious design means being aware of where resources come from so that we can shift our building industry towards more post-carbon based types of construction.

“What makes me do what I do? I couldn’t do it any other way; once your eyes are open they’re open, and I can’t stand by and not act on one’s convictions. Also, it’s a great field to be in, you meet interesting people, get to work on amazing projects and you have to be extra creative.”


 Get in touch with Andy Horn by visiting his website and find out more about past and current projects and the principles inspiring his work.

 Live like a local on the gentle slopes of a colourful community




What does Bereaville look like? I arrived at night, so I had no idea at first. Horses at the bus stop. Pedestrians navigating by moonlight. By light of day few of the pale Greytonians I met even knew what I was talking about. “You mean Genadendal?” they asked, as if their local knowledge reached just that far. Bereaville is a five-minute drive on the other side of Greyton’s immediate neighbour, a colourful rural settlement full of life.

I went because I liked the look of Poespasrivier Cottage from its pictures (though less so its name, and that is all I will say on the subject), a missionary’s cottage nestled beneath great gum trees. Enter Bereaville up a gentle gravel road and it sits watching the small, shallow valley. Repossessed from the toll time takes on all things and restored with love and local knowledge, its main walls are thick as a pregnant belly and its corners are often curved. Adobe houses have a friendliness I’ve not found in other types of buildings. They’re typified by irregular edges, solid structures, and no foundations, at least in this area. Back in the day, they didn’t dig deep, they just built strong. Which doesn’t stop gravity from tugging over time.

When restoration began on this 150-year old home, a whole corner of it had to be repossessed and reshaped in the restoration process, Reverend Angora consulted the expertise of an American architect and took much care to include local knowledge and workmanship and original and natural materials.  The full story is beautifully-written here  and will give you a deeper appreciation of the quaint, resilient cottage.

These days it’s fully kitted out with energy-aware everything – a gas-powered shower, gas stove, small electric fridge, composting WC. The lights are energy savers and the walls are natural insulators. I slept with all the windows wide open, so that the sounds of the weekend world of Bereaville could be the soundtrack to my evening. Donkey brays in the dark. Horse whinnies. Laughter to the left. Singing to the right. On Sunday morning I woke up seconds before the local church bell, and blinked my eyes open to the sound of choral voices wafting through the window. I felt I was in the company of something greater than me, and was grateful to the Reverend for striking out and giving travellers an opportunity to be part of a corrugated community like this. That, and the peach trees and grapevine which will forever be growing into the gaps in my mind. The patio is perfect for brunches, lunches and a bit of painting, too.







Find out more about Poespasrivier Cottage.

Have you been here? Write an eco review and you could win one of three super eco friendly hampers for body or home.

The secret of the Garden Route is its surprises. Hanois Crescent winds up the side of a Plett hill that appears fairly ordinary and urban. Getting out at number 45 is a point of departure as well as arrival. You know that wands are made from trees, right? Maybe that explains the magic …


Winding down wooden steps, I came to a bright doorway that suggested a Bauhaus for hobbits: clean, cute and classy. It opened to a ‘reception’  that felt more like a huge tree house that blends dining room, kitchen, patio and bush. A cascade of creativity and nature and optimal use of space: that’s Feo Sachs’ touch. He’s the resident architect responsible for every building in the spell or, rather, dell. Entire walls of glass and clever angles lend each separate building grandeur and nature in equal proportions. It’s mesmerising. And perfect for guests with dogs as TreeHaven is pet friendly.


After introductions, Feo’s wife, Carol, whisked me off on a maze of lush pathways snaking through dappled milkwood and wild olive boughs.  On the way I met worms with their own farm. “Vermiculture” said the artist slash tour guide, “we give them all our organic waste, and I feed all my plants with their juice and encourage my staff to sell it for extra cash.” The ingenuity and generosity of a good person with a natural plan still curls through my mind with the paths, like the lines in her paintings. You’ll see them spotted around the dwellings, celebrating life.


For a change of mood from your own balcony or view, take a walk around the garden and find the little bench amongst the jasmine bushes and you’ll understand why the proprietors think of it as their own private biome.


The studio I stayed in is a corner of paradise replete with nesting Loeries and a north-facing patio that tracks the sun season in, season out.


Immersed in natural isolation despite having neighbours nearby, I didn’t leave for the rest of the day, though the beach was calling and the weather near perfect.


When strains of Carol and Feo’s classical music faded, I tuned in to a myriad of other winged ones singing the song of a sunny afternoon in a private idyll. By nightfall, the frogs sang too, and sleep was deep.


Tip  : use insect repellent. Big mozzies from the bullrushes below.

To find out more about their Eco Choices or make a booking, visit the Treehaven page on Eco Atlas.

Cobhouse in Muizenberg

These days, an increasing number of my life decisions just don’t feel complete unless I’ve taken into account the factors upstream and downstream that relate that decision back to the earth and our place on it. And when building our eco-friendly cob house, as well as completing the portion that now runs as an organic B&B, my partner Carey and I did our best to choose sustainable options in as many areas as possible. But without compromising on this, there are still plenty of ways of saving costs too!

 Most obviously in our case, the building material itself didn’t cost the earth – literally. ‘Cob’ is not something you can buy off the shelf from your local hardware store; it’s an ad hoc mixture of sand and clay that varies in its proportions according to what’s available locally and even what the weather is like on the day you’re building (hot dry ‘bergwind’ days needed a lot more moisture in the mix, for example!). And the clay isn’t the high-end stuff used for making regular baked bricks: it’s best if it’s got a decent amount of sandy grains in it as you want it to bond nicely with the sand. Most of our sand came from our foundation digging rather than being pulled out of sensitive dune systems; and the ‘clay’ was reclaimed and recycled from the municipal landfill site nearby, where other builders were dumping it (as “useless” material!)

We searched around for the straw – some of it being shipped in wholesale from an out of town farmer, at a fraction of the cost of the animal feed places. And our gum poles, which form such a distinctive feature of our house, were being cleared as aliens. They were treated by Somerset Timbers (in Somerset West) who were the only wood-treatment plant we could find that would use an organic/eco-friendly treatment process that was acceptable for building standards. We relied somewhat on our excellent structural engineer, who erred on the side of caution in all things – too many well-meant natural buildings have crumbled through lack of care or knowledge in either construction or maintenance.

Sure, our costs crept up somewhat again, after the huge savings we’d made on the wall materials, because of the length of time our labourers needed for a building process that wasn’t conventional – though we still saved compared to regular building methods. And the time taken in itself meant we gave men steady work for longer rather than wasting our money on bricks. And if we come back to the all-important question of the costs to the earth, it’s clear that the energy saving from building in cob, not only in production but in the ongoing heating and cooling savings for the house, are well worth it. Of course, cob is not the only natural building method out there, and you can compare the costs with straw bale, timber frame, adobe, sandbags, to name a few of the more popular options. The main problem we face at the moment in South Africa, though, is that these options, while often traditional building methods here, are not understood enough by financial institutions to make financing of alternative building technology straightforward. Given our housing shortage, that’s a great pity.

But have no fear, if you’re rather looking to refurbish or renovate an existing building, there are still plenty of options for going green, more of which I will share about in future columns!


About the author:

Simric grew up alongside the green movement in the UK but has lived in South Africa since 1996. That year, when working for an environmental NGO, he discovered natural building technologies, in particular cob. With his partner Carey he co-built the first modern cob house on a suburban street in a South African city; and now co-manages it as an organic B&B, in Muizenberg, Cape Town.

Simric has written and spoken both poetry and prose on a range of topics, often with a holistic/ sustainability theme but with a positive and uplifting perspective. He is also an accomplished teacher in the holistic Waldorf/Steiner system of creative education, and he runs conscious/green day tours of the Cape Town region.

The Cobhouse on Eco Atlas