Building at Rhodes:
a guide for homebuilders


By ANNE FITCHETT, ARCHITECT
(see contact details at end of article)

This document was initiated and sponsored by the 1993/1994
Rhodes Ratepayers and Residents Association.
Revised 2002


This document has been prepared to assist people wanting to build new houses and outbuildings within Rhodes, which will comply with the aesthetics required by the village conservation regulations. Each of the prototypes has a few variations which are suggested in the drawings and descriptions. They can also be used as the basis for more individual designs but here it is recommended that the publications on Rhodes by the School of Architecture, University of Natal are consulted.

Various types of veranda are depicted which may be adapted to suit any other of the houses. As this element is one of the most noteworthy characteristics of Rhodes houses, it should be designed to reflect the scale and style of the older houses.

North points have been indicated for one possible orientation for each type. Houses can be mirrored or reversed to gain optimal sunlight, but where the ‘back’ of the house is turned to face the street, care must be taken in the design of the street facade.

At Rhodes the main entrance door should always face the street side and this elevation should be the most formal in terms of position and proportions of openings and use of materials.

For example, house prototypes ‘one’ and ‘four’ may be reversed but the symmetry of door and windows in the street facing side should be retained.


PROTOTYPE ONE

(Click here to view plans)                              

Drawing  shows a hipped roof and a gable-ended variation. It would also be suitable for a ‘Karoo’ style (fig 1 below) with a shallow pitched roof with parapets to the front and sides.


 
  

The plan can be extended by locating a second bedroom behind the bathroom (fig 2 above). A more extensive addition of a full kitchen and dining area can be made next to the chimney wall (fig 3 above).

Particular care must be taken with the roof form and the design of the street facade.

 


PROTOTYPE TWO

(click here to view plans)                 

This house can be given a second bedroom behind the bathroom, shown dotted in fig 4. A new wing could be added to the kitchen side, resulting in an effect similar to house type ‘four’ (fig 4 below). With a pitched roof both alterations should have full-height pitched roofs and not lean-to’s.

A hipped roof may be used but the forward projecting wing next to the veranda should retain the gable.


PROTOTYPE THREE
(click here to view plans)

This arrangement is not common in Rhodes, but can be found in many Victorian and Edwardian country towns in South Africa. It is best suited to a corner property, sited with the two sides of the veranda facing the streets. Moreover, it is not easily extended without compromising the pure geometry. Here an outbuilding is recommended if additional space is required (see outbuilding 3).

The plan shows the entrance on one side of the veranda but the door can be located on a splay with the veranda cut back at 45 degrees (fig 5 above).


PROTOTYPE FOUR
(click here to view plans)

This ‘H’ plan type is also difficult to extend later, although the space between the wings facing away from the street can be filled in with a shallow pitched roof. It can be built from the outset with larger rooms while retaining the symmetry of the plan. One of the bathrooms can be omitted and the space used for a study or to enlarge the adjacent rooms.


PROTOTYPE FIVE
(click here to view plans)

This house is very versatile for extensions while retaining the same roof form. These are achieved by extending the passage through the end bedroom.


OUTBUILDING PROTOTYPES
(click here to view plans)

The drawings show a single garage with workbench or storage space (1), a garage with outside toilet and a coal or tool store (2), and a guest cottage (3).

It is recommended that the width of these is kept to a minimum so that the outbuilding does not compete with the main house. They may all be extended in the long direction within reason (fig 6 below).

Double garages are not advised as two garage doors in the same wall are not easily reconciled with the Rhodes aesthetic. Two separate structures are preferable, and can be sited to enhance the symmetry of house types ‘one’ and ‘four’ (fig 7).

The different roof forms can be used to complement the house, but this does not have to be rigidly applied. However, the roof pitch of the outbuilding (as in 1 and 3) should correspond with the house roof pitch where they are hipped or gable-ended.


SITING THE BUILDINGS

Most of the existing houses at Rhodes are sited close to the street which is regulated to within 4,5m from the street boundary. The facade on the street side should be given special attention in the design and use of materials. All buildings are required to be placed parallel to the street, and the location of the front door should be on this elevation.

Consideration should be given to future extensions to houses and outbuildings when positioning them on the site so that additions do not entail demolition.


MATERIALS AND FINISHES

A number of materials and finishes can be seen as characteristic of the older houses at Rhodes. These include timber windows, doors and verandas, corrugated iron roofs with half-round gutters, and a limited range of wall finishes. These guidelines should be read in conjunction with the conservation regulations.

The ‘Karoo’ style lends itself to painted plaster, while the others may use wood floated plaster, plaster ruled to resemble stonework (‘mock Ashlar’) or locally-made red brick.

The latter must be checked for quality (durability and resistance to water penetration) as this can be variable. Facebrick from other sources should be carefully selected to match the colour, shape, size and texture of the local brick.

Plinths are an important feature of Rhodes buildings, ideally of stone from local quarries. Where this is not available, they can be constructed from facebrick or plaster projecting slightly from the face of the wall.

Timber windows are strongly recommended, especially for the street facade. Sliding sashes in the proportions of 1:2 or 2:3 (see fig 8 bewlo) are ideal, but casements can also be used if care is given to their proportions.

Wide openings should be avoided in favour of vertical ones. The ratio of wall to openings is critical and windows should never dominate over wall surface area for aesthetic reasons. This also has a practical advantage in preventing excessive heat loss in the cold winters at Rhodes.

A number of external door types have been used in the village for which modern equivalents can be found. Sliding doors should be avoided but double French doors can be used providing the overall width is not excessive.

In unplastered brick walls, lintols may take the form of shallow arches supported on flat steel bars, or may be horizontal and plastered to resemble stone. In the latter case, the plaster area should be fairly deep (150mm) to be visually effective. Timber lintols are another option but should likewise be of generous depth (at least 75mm). Window cills, traditionally of stone, can be simulated in concrete or plaster, but should also be given generous proportions.

The verandas shown on the drawings are all based on Victorian examples. The less complex and decorative are recommended as they are more economical to build and are more in keeping with houses which respect older styles but are of modern construction. While it is possible to mimic these styles in metal, timber is strongly recommended.

Roofs should use corrugated iron with the traditional (standard) profile following the precedent of the rest of the village. All other roofing materials are inappropriate. Roof pitches in the drawings are shown as 45 and 35 degrees, and should be between these extremes unless the ‘Karoo’ style is used. The latter should have a pitch of 7 degrees and must be hidden behind a parapet on the street side.

Veranda roofs may use a simple shallow pitch or be factory profiled as in several existing examples (fig 9 above). Round galvanised sheet-iron gutters and downpipes are strongly advised as the profile of aluminium is too small.


CLIMATIC CONTROL

The climate at Rhodes is severe, with winter temperatures well below freezing, and snow even in mid-summer. A number of design and detailing considerations need to be addressed to accomodate this.

Walls should be built of two skins with a cavity. For even better insulation the cavity can be filled with insulating materials such as urethane. Particular care should be given to the prevention of rising damp through walls and floors. Floors can be insulated by using a layer of ‘no-fines’ concrete.

Glass-fibre or other roofing insulation is strongly recommended. This must be installed while the building is under construction in the ‘Karoo’ type as it is impossible to introduce later without removing the ceiling.

All the prototypes are shown with at least one stove or fireplace. Even when electricity is introduced to the area, this is recommended. The houses are designed to be as compact as possible to prevent excess heat loss. Living and dining areas are usually shown as inter-leading so that all the areas used in the daytime can be heated from a single source. Bedrooms may require additional heating.

Plumbing pipework should be located on the west or north side to prevent pipes bursting. Lagging should also be used especially for water supply pipes.

Additional information can be found in the two studies (1987 and 1998) undertaken and published by the School of Architecture, University of Natal. Alterations to the prototypes to suit individual needs, including preparation for submission to the various authorities can be performed by:

ANNE FITCHETT ARCHITECT
36 Tenth Avenue
Parktown North 2193 
Tel: 011-788-3797
Fax: 011-403-2308
e-mail: 013anne@cosmos.wits.ac.za