With a brief to preserve every tree in this dense woodland site, architect Frankie Pappas created a linear, narrow home that is threaded through this green space.

frankie pappas south africa narrow house - self build homes - grand designs

Image: Frankie Pappas

Located in the Bushveld, a sub-tropical woodland in southern Africa, architecture collective Frankie Pappas had an intriguing brief for this unusual plot of land. Their clients were an elderly couple whose love and knowledge of this dense surroundings is expansive, which meant that this self build home must be constructed without disrupting the environment.

“Every tree and bush and insect and bird and mammal is a personal friend of theirs. They are enthusiastically involved in the environmental education of underprivileged youngsters from the surrounding areas, opening up their farm to and sharing their experience with these kids,” explain Frankie Pappas.

The result? The House with the Big Arch - an incredibly narrow home which follows the land, ensuring that the house didn’t require a single tree to be felled in its construction.

Read more: 4 beautiful, isolated self-build homes from around the world

frankie pappas south africa narrow house - self build homes - grand designs

Image: Frankie Pappas

A unique site approach

With trees dictating how and where the house could be built, it’s an unusual layout and collection of spaces, at some points just over three metres wide. To plan a build that wouldn’t disrupt the surrounding environment, Frankie Pappas laser-scanned the site, before converting it into a 3D model. This allowed them to see not only the shape of the terrain, but each individual branch, permitting them to design while in a digital version of the forest.

frankie pappas south africa house 3

Image: Frankie Pappas

Material matters

The basic concept of the design was to bridge the landscape between the riverine forest and sandstone cliff. The rough brick stock, used for the majority of the house, was selected for its close match to this naturally occurring stone. The bridges are constructed from sustainably-grown timbers, with glass and aluminium creating a bright, light-filled home.

frankie pappas south africa house

Image: Dook for Visi

The home is entirely off-the-grid. Water from the roofs is collected and filtered through the forest, while power is garnered from 16 square metres of solar panels. The architecture has been designed in a way to reduce the need for cooing, using its orientation to create breeze and shade to further reduce its energy demands.

.read a free issue of grand designs magazine

Having lost six months and not wanting to wait any longer, Audrey decided to let the contractor go and changed most of he project team bar the mechanical engineer. She brought in site manager Mark Gidley and between them they put together a team of tradesmen to finish the project. This enabled them to make decisions straight away, and the pace of the build picked up considerably, with the final snagging phase completed just before Christmas 2012.

 frankie pappas south africa house - self build homes - grand designs

Image: Dook for Visi 

Canopy living 

The living spaces are elevated into the tree canopy, with the first floor made up of a planted courtyard, lounge, dining room, kitchen, deck and a small pool. Most of the living and cooking occurs around an outdoor fireplace. 

On the ground floor, there are more courtyards, created by the need to meander the structure of the house around existing trees, as well as a study, a library and a cellar. 


For more Grand Designs homes and self build inspiration, read Grand Designs magazine digitally for free now by registering your details

read a free issue of grand designs magazine


5 of best self build projects using timber 2020

Kitchen extension ideas to improve your home

How to reduce the carbon footprint of your build

Kevins Column

Grand Designs Live Online: Self Build & Renovation Weekend 31 July – 1 August 2021

Discover free home project advice and product recommendations from the comfort of your own home. Register now to express your interest.
Self Build Homes

Create your dream eco home with modern post and beam

For a state-of-the-art eco home at a reasonable price, choose a high-quality German modern post and beam or closed panel construction
Self Build Homes

10 stunning period home renovations

Learn how the owners of these period properties made contemporary changes whilst retaining and respecting their original character and charm.
Self Build Homes

Inside the future of sustainable prefab homes

Inside a modern prefabricated homes factory, designing and producing unique and sustainable modern homes
Self Build Homes

When to consult a structural engineer for your self build or renovation

A structural engineer is an important part of a self build, extension or renovation. Here's what you need to know about their role in your...
Self Build Homes

Making distinctive dream homes a reality

Discover why any self-build home needs architectural inspiration, planning knowhow and service that puts you first.
Self Build Homes

6 self builders who carried out the building work themselves

To beat budget restraints, these have-a-go heroes rolled up their sleeves and tackled the construction of their homes themselves.