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Sagnelli Associate Architects

Online since 5.03.2017 • Filed under Professions - Architecture • From Issue 20 page(s) 34-40
Sagnelli Associate Architects

Passionate architect, Vincenzo (Chen) Sagnelli spoke to To Build about his practice, his SAIA Sustainable Architecture Award winning project and life in general in Kwa-Zulu Natal, where he is based.

Chen started his adult life in true Durban style. He was a surfing champion and devoted considerable time and energy to this passion, interrupting his architectural studies at the University of Kwa-Zulu Natal (UKZN) to surf the big league. Significantly, he is an architect who has walked on fire – literally. During his years of study and to help pay the rent, he was a fireman with the Durban Fire Department for eight years, rather than being conscripted into the South African Defence Force. Subsequently, he was able to pay off his student loan and in the process became a registered fire engineer.

‘I consulted to many of the architects I studied with, as a fire consultant, whilst working and then UKZN employed me as a staff member to teach third- ,fourth- and fifth-year students about the fire bylaws and their application to design’, he says. Later, Chen returned to UKZN, repeating the studies he had missed and his sixth year in 1990.

Following his passion for water sports, his thesis in 1990 was about the creation of an ‘Ocean Sports Centre’ in Durban for all wave-riding sports. ‘This turned out to be the first and only UKZN architect’s thesis projects of its kind to be built in KZN thus far. Finally, in 1994 and 1995, the Ocean Sports centre was built on the Durban beachfront and became the hub of wave-riding sports and development,’ he adds. Certainly this is an achievement to be proud of.

Sagnelli Associate Architects’ staff complement of eight represents a blend of high tech and traditional architectural skills. Chen’s son-in-law, Gareth, is a design software buff who renders all their projects once they have been conceptualised. The design of upmarket houses, such as the one featured below is not all that drives the Sagnelli practice. There is a genuine interest in housing opportunities in the informal sector and in maximising the potential of “township boxes” and other facilities that reach the underdeveloped sector of our population. Be it designs and concepts for a childcare centre, or the optimal arrangement of government-sponsored square box houses that are so ubiquitous, Chen has assisted or has ideas that could assist in all of these. His interventions to help the residents of the KwaMashu township serve as a case in point.

The Gorgeous Green House project

Referred to in its SAIA Sustainable Architecture Awards citation as a “poster-child” for sustainable green living, the Gorgeous Green House in Durban North and incorporates numerous state-of-the-art green features indoors and out – it literally has it all. The meeting of Chen with owners Jane Troughton and Greg Courtney was a professional match made in heaven.

‘Jane Troughton is a horticulturalist and she was actively involved in researching and implementing various sustainable features,’ says Chen. ‘So, the client brief to me was “let’s make a green architecture building stylish, refined and contemporary, so that the building is subservient to the amazing environment in which it sits”. She also said: Why shouldn’t a green architecture building be an amazing piece of art?’

The Greenhouse is truly unique. Did the architects base Chen’s design on any international case histories or models, we asked? ‘No, I really explored the time, moment, space and circumstances in which we found ourselves. We chose to reuse all the materials from the old home and to minimise going beyond the footprint of the original house. We created a place where the multitude of bird life, including owls, and butterflies could live as freely as they would do had this just been natural indigenous vegetation. And believe you me, there are all kinds of animals here that have been seen at various times of the day and night,’ he replies.

Top five sustainable features

According to Chen, the top five sustainable features of the Greenhouse include:

1. Large overhangs, creating shade which helps to cool cross ventilation throughout the house, 2. Use of existing building materials and new recycled materials,

3. Capitalizing on solar radiation to create electricity,

4. Capturing fresh rain water and recycling existing grey water for reuse, and 5. Blending and integrating the built form into an already indigenous garden that was established 50-60 years ago.

The SAIA awards citation is quite descriptive and reads ‘A client-driven green research project, the Gorgeous Green House encapsulates all green and eco gadgetry there is within the market. This project shows just how strong the client’s voice was with decision making on a sustainable level. Special thought, consideration and research by the client allowed the design of the house to incorporate many sustainable features, from rooftop gardens, green walls, evaporative cooling ponds, water harvesting, storage and recycling, and solar energy, to name a few. The property also incorporates sustainable and environmentally-friendly materials from bamboo, recycled carpets and kitchen countertops. It also boasts an incredibly integrated eco-system of bee hives, kitchens, veggie garden and a natural swimming pool with fish, all of which attract over 40 species of birds, insects and wildlife to the property. This house is the “poster-child” for sustainable green living.”

Sagnelli Associate Architects

T +27 (0)31 536 8160

M +27 (0)82 772 4426



Issue 20

Issue 20

March 2017

This article was featured on page 34-40 of
To Build Magazine Issue 20.

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