Profiles: Mellet & Human Architects - Pretoria, South Africa

Willem Human-André Mellet-Architects

Pretoria-based Mellet & Human Architects is an award-winning practice which was founded in 2000 by André Mellet and Willem Human. In the intervening years, they have made a name for themselves by designing timeless projects, most notably in the upmarket residential sector.

The two architects, who studied together and graduated from the University of Pretoria in 1991 (Mellet obtained his degree CumLaude), know each other’s capabilities and complement each other perfectly  Mellet has an eye for design and is in charge of conceptualisation, design and marketing while Human’s expertise, having studied engineering prior to architecture, is in the field of technical documentation and detailing of designs. Today we combine our experience in running our office and both of us are personally involved with all projects and consultations with clients; an aspect that clients appreciate, says Human.

I had wanted to become an architect since my first years of primary school, notes Mellet. I was always intrigued by people’s houses and used to draw house plans as a kid I even designed a house for a Grade 7 school project. As such, architecture was my only choice as a profession. After graduating, both gained valuable experience in most fields of architecture prior to setting up their own practice, working for large firms until 1999, when they realised that to further their careers and explore their creative talent, they had to start their own venture.

“We were both up for a bit of a challenge when we began, especially after being employed in big firms for nearly ten years, explains Mellet. Our initial goals were to be creative, enjoy what we did, and do it by ourselves. Their first projects as Mellet & Human Architects were residential in nature, and were just the tool to satisfy their urge for creativity, since, as Human notes, Residential designs can be some of the most challenging.

Their efforts have paid off, and projects have been undertaken throughout South Africa, as well as abroad in Mozambique, Florida and Tennessee in the United States, as well as a rural home in Israel. Our combined architectural experiences also enable us to undertake projects in the commercial and leisure markets, while office buildings already form part of our portfolio of work, points out Human.

The practice is affiliated to the South African Council for Architects (SACAP), the South African Institute of Architects (SAIA), the Pretoria Institute of Architects (PIA), and is a member of the Green Building Council of South Africa (GBCSA). Notable awards include a PIA Honorable Mention for Architecture in 2011, an SAIA Award of Excellence and Award of Merit in 2012 and the prestigious International Property Award: Best Residential Architecture South Africa in 2013.

Three Brazilian architects, Isay Weinfeld, Studio MK27 and Oscar Niemeyer, have had a notable influence on the pair, primarily the simplicity in their designs, bold shapes, architecture which recognises context, the use of climatic influences and their use of colour. It is maybe not a coincidence that we share the same vision as these Brazilian architects, as South Africa and Brazil are both located in the southern hemisphere, I think that architecturally we share some of the same architectural principles in terms of climate and context, says Mellet.

Architecture is increasingly becoming more competitive through the use of the internet, says Human. Potential clients are also becoming more aware of architecture through social media, so the challenge is to educate clients on the value that can be added to their project by using an architect that is suitable and well qualified. It is this personal attention which sets the pair apart in what is increasingly becoming a fast-track, bottom-line driven industry as opposed to a client-centric one. One of our strongpoints is listening to a client’s needs and interpreting them into a design, says Mellet. We also try and create a sense of timelessness with our projects, so we do not pay much attention to the architectural trends of today. Ultimately, we want to create something that won’t need a facelift in 10 years’ time.

Over the next twelve months, the architects, who have settled into a functional and efficient working relationship, will be busy on the design of an apartment block in Midrand, along with luxury residences in Thohoyandou, Midstream and Pretoria and residential designs for a developer at The Ridge in Pretoria East.

To get away from the stresses and strains of the architectural industry, both Human and Mellet enjoy travelling and seeing the world. I think that to travel is essential to being an architect, state Mellet. Whether local or international, travelling opens once eyes, it lets one experience, it inspires and it creates memories. We both love to travel, and support each other’s ‘getaways’ throughout the year. I am in the fortunate position to often travel internationally, especially to New York and Sao Paulo in Brazil, while Willem prefers his yearly camping safaris.

Practicing architecture is exciting and constantly changing with the development of technology and the internet, conclude the pair. One is able to compete more on an international level than ever before while the internet has brought global architecture into the office, and it is challenging keeping the creative mind of the architect going. With a solid portfolio in a variety of sectors, these award-winning architects offer exclusivity with a personal touch, something not common amongst today’s architectural practices.

Creating good architecture is about solving the challenges accompanying each project successfully, which contributes to the sense of achievement and enjoyment of these designs, explains Mellet. The following projects, each one different in challenges and client requirements, showcase their talent and diversity.

House Walbridge, Waterkloof Ridge, Pretoria

House Walbridge, Waterkloof Ridge, Pretoria

Although completed in 2005, this home, commissioned by and American client, is still one of our favourite designs. The brief was to design a modern family house in white utilising the views over the city. It was a dream project where budget was not a big concern and we had free reign to design. Due to the steep site the house is spread over four levels, with the main entrance on the upper street level, leading down to the living areas and guest wing, then the family bedroom level, and eventually at the lowest point, a games room and pool area. The house is large, but due to the central staircase, movement is easy, and passages have been kept to a minimum.

House Eloff/Kruger Groenkloof, Pretoria

House Eloff/Kruger Groenkloof, Pretoria

This house is situated in Groenkloof, an established suburb of Pretoria, the capital city of South Africa. The large, steep stand affords views over the city to the north, and borders a nature reserve to the south. The brief was for a modern, functional, energy efficient house, utilising city and nature reserve views, and the moderate outdoor living climate of Pretoria. The footprint of a demolished house had to be incorporated in the design and the resulting design, spread over three levels, has a glass skin northern façade, providing sufficient natural light, views and connection to the outside. The main entrance has open plan living areas flowing and connecting to the outside entertainment area and pool deck overlooking the garden. A study, guest room and garage complete this floor. The private upper level has three en-suite bedrooms and a small TV lounge. Views are provided onto the nature reserve through the staircase’s double volume glass and upper level strip windows, while a studio on the lower level can function as a small separate living unit. Energy efficiency is achieved through orientation, double glazing and insulated floors, walls, and roof and concrete overhangs framing the upper level provide sun control. Solar power provides electricity and warm water and rainwater is collected for re-use in galvanized tanks used externally as architectural features. The large garden is landscaped with water wise indigenous plants and external surfaces and levels are finished and textured in different materials, such as flush jointed painted brick walls, exposed concrete, steel, glass and natural stone.

Private Lodge, Boschhoek Mountain Estate, Modimolle

Private Lodge, Boschhoek Mountain Estate, Modimolle

Currently still under construction, this private lodge is situated on Boschhoek Mountain Estate close to Modimolle. The brief was to design a luxury lodge consisting of a main communal living and entertainment unit with lounge and dining facility, pool and boma, a private owner’s suite and three private, self-contained guest units each with their own splashpool. Set against a cliff to the south, views are afforded over the estate to the northeast. The single level units are positioned between rocky outcrops and indigenous bush for low impact on the natural environment. The steel structures are filled in with brickwork, and mostly glass, to create the effect of being in the bush at all times. Low maintenance finishes are used, and the lodge will be self-sufficient: solar power will fulfil electricity and heating needs; a dual waste water system for grey and black water is used; and the buildings are insulated. Solar panels are integrated as part of the carport roof structure while rainwater will be collected in a 53 000 litre underground water tank, and should be sufficient for lodge use.

Volumode Offices Groenkloof, Pretoria
This office building is situated alongside a busy road no longer desirable for residential purposes, but identified for higher density development. Planning and essential rezoning was done in consultation with the local resident’s association, which was favorably met as it might set the theme for future similar projects. It is a new HQ building with executive offices and open plan offices in a functional and energy efficient design. It was designed with a north orientation with a central courtyard which provides sufficient daylight and ventilation.

House Aucamp Gift Acres Estate. Pretoria

House Aucamp Gift Acres Estate. Pretoria

This project is situated on a small steep and narrow site, measuring only 12m x 30m, running north-south (to the south the stand borders a nature reserve). Extensive and intricate accommodation requirements had to be fitted into the design, and furthermore, the narrow north frontage of only 12m created the challenge of allowing northern light into the internal spaces of the house. Living areas run the length of the property, opening to the north, and connecting the nature reserve on the south to the house. The living areas are single storey, allowing the use of clerestory windows to bring northern light deep into the structure. This project offered the opportunity of designing on a small piece of land and solving the resulting design challenges.