So You Want To Build Where?

Continuing in the series of “Building from a distance”, we are taking a slight deviation from the mind boggling realities of the ever-changing building process which continues to throw curveballs at you albeit generally not major ones.

This “slight deviation” is in fact all about your selection of an appropriate piece of land where you will test your vision, patience, sanity, human tolerance (of architects and everyone else who thinks they know what you do and don’t want) and your reasoning for why you make the decisions you do.

So you want to build where?There are many schools of thought about where one should build and at the coast the inevitable “I want a sea view” is always the key point of discussion. That is until you live at the coast and suddenly realise that you do, in fact, have a second option – it’s called a mountain view. For the purposes of this comparison, we will leave out any reference to the third option which is the “views of neighbouring walls” which is not what most people would want, particularly if you have retired to the coast having spent most of your life inland with no mountains, no sea and plenty of walls in built up residential areas.

There are 7 key factors one must consider when making this choice. Unfortunately the most critical one which is often the one that decides your build for you – the Budget. We all know that any property with a sea view gets top marks on the scale of “how much extra should I ask the bank manager for”. That budget filter can ease up quite a bit when you look at a mountain view “only” scenario and somewhere in between is that perfect (or so you thought) solution – both sea and mountain views.

But before you get too excited about that option, think about the gradient of the piece of land you have your eyes on. It is one of life’s biggest challenges to think pragmatically when you have the most amazing views and the brain does not comprehend that there are various obstacles that go with that desire. These could be anything from the slope of the property to the practicality of a design which does or does not favour steps and multiple levels. Obviously a 2 level house requires steps, a lift (if that “Budget” word isn’t an issue) or, hopefully sometime in the next millennium a “Beam me up Scotty” alternative which is more of a wild dream than a reality.

There is one rule of thumb that does not change – the steeper the gradient, the more costly the build and the inevitability of steps immediately eliminates any ideas of a single level end result. It doesn’t end there as another factor which comes into play as the gradient gets steeper is access to a garage and parking. And what’s worse is if you are at that stage in life where everyone says “plan for the no-steps, wheelchair access, stair lifts” and so on, you will be on the receiving end of the chirps of all the critics who seem to think that once you are over 60, there is no hope left for you to be able to live a life that includes steps in it. The message is that if you must have steps because of the gradient and the desired views, work with a design that minimises the amount of steps inside the house and have wide enough external steps to build that ramp that everyone seems to think you need many years before the time, if ever.

If you have been involved in buying a residential property in South Africa, you will recognise the mantra of “North facing, south entry” being the preferred lay of the land. That is all good and well until you factor in the location of your views depending on which part of the country you live in and if fortunate enough, on which coastline. In a perfect world at the coast, you would want the best combination which would be north facing with a sea view. But what to do if the sea is south facing and the mountain is north? It is here where some of the most fundamental building mistakes happen and can only be corrected by finding that Pot of Gold at the end of the mythical rainbow.

There is really only one realistic solution for this, particularly when faced with the inevitable coastal wind factor which is ever present and will determine your tolerance level with each windy day. Your main entertainment area cannot be anywhere but on the northern side and if you intend to factor in a swimming pool then there is no question as to where it must be located. Get creative with your design so that you can have a protected entertainment area on the northern side and a viewing area/room/patio/balcony on the sea facing side for those times when the weather allows you the luxury of a calm day to enjoy your sea views. Also make sure you understand the angle of the sun during the different seasons as that will have a huge impact on the overall design of your home. Be wary of a west facing entertainment area in summer as the afternoon and setting sun will make the area extremely hot and will necessitate a large supply of sunglasses and fans.

An absolutely essential factor when deciding on the size, shape and location of a stand, is that you think about the end result of what you wish to achieve and how all of that will work on the land you have chosen. Too often people build a “dream” only to find that some very basic elements were not thought about at the early stages. These could include closeness to neighbours, road intersections and schools. More importantly, in a new development, make sure you understand regulations regarding building height restrictions and building lines as you could end up being very disappointed if you build with a plan for certain views, only to find that when your neighbour builds in front of or next to you, those views get obstructed for life.

A key lesson learnt by us in this process is to make sure that your architect has the vision and creativity to be able to interpret what you want and to realistically incorporate that into a design suitable for the available piece of land. An even better plan would be to choose an architect first and have them assist in the choice of stand to suit your desired end result.