Project name: Buffelsdrift Farm | Location: Klein Karoo, Western Cape, South Africa | Completed: 2020 | Architect: SAOTA and Jaco Booyens

South African architecture firm SAOTA and architect Jaco Booyens have joined forces to bring new life to Buffelsdrift Farm in the Klein Karoo region of South Africa's Western Cape. The farm comprises a series of heritage buildings that include a main house, two barns and a wine store, all of which were originally built by Dutch settlers in the 1700s.

SAOTA director Greg Truen acquired the farm in 2016. He notes that over the years minor additions and modern alterations had been made to the buildings but for the most part, the original house was “in good condition, considering” and the barns were “fundamentally untouched”. The restoration was an opportunity to apply contemporary architectural practices to such historically rich buildings.

The team stripped out earlier refurbishments from the 1970s and added a contemporary kitchen and bathrooms to the main house. Modern materials were carefully selected. “We looked for a contemporary material that spoke to the original materials,” says Truen. For example, the shower (in a recess formerly used as a fireplace) has been clad in terrazzo slabs, and a contemporary terazzo-clad kitchen has also been added. The concrete and aggregate in Terrazzo resonate with the stone and cement paving. “The terrazzo felt like a way to work between the old and the new, where the new felt like it had some kind of genesis in the old,” says Truen.

The exterior of the wine store was painted pink partly in reference to the historical practice in the Karoo of mixing lime to make a light red or pink colour, and partly as a way of paying homage to the historical connections between Cape and Mexican architecture. “A lot of the historical buildings in both countries are made in quite similar ways, using mud and stone and materials that were immediately available to them,” says Truen. “And, actually, they have quite similar landscapes.”

A new pump house was added near the dam wall in response to the need for an irrigation building. “It was an opportunity to experiment and test some ideas we had to do with contemporary architecture built using traditional techniques,” says Truen. The building's earth-coloured walls are inspired by the poured-mud walls of the heritage buildings. “It’s a technique somewhere between rammed earth and working with concrete,” says Booyens. “You could almost say it’s a primitive form of working with concrete, but instead of concrete, we worked with mud.” 

The restoration of Buffelsdrift Farm was awarded recently won the gold medal at the seventh edition (2019) of the international Domus Restoration and Conservation Award ( in Italy. The award recognises “excellence in the field of restoration, redevelopment and architectural and landscape recovery at an international level”.

Photography by Adam Letch. 

For architectural inspiration of a different kind, check out decaArchitecture's Ring House in Crete.