This off the grid timber home in Klein Karoo is as beautiful as it is green.


About the Architect

sustainable modular home - 4With climate change and rapid population growth, the work of Italian born, Brussels-trained architect Pietro Russo is beginning to look more and more like the way forward, yet it has taken almost a decade for his pioneering pod-style home designs and off-site pre-construction ideas to take off.

Pietro trained at I.S.A.C.F. (Institut Superieur d’Architecture Communicante Francaise) La Cambre in Brussels and did his thesis on township and social housing in Jo’burg in conjunction with Wits University. A job with an Arabian company brought him to Cape Town where he worked for a year before taking up a two year lectureship post at UCT’s School of Architecture.

About the house

Initially designed and built by Pietro for his family, the home included all his ideas for modern design and green, water-free methods of construction. “My aim was to build something that would blend into the environment and at the same time be beautiful with high quality finishes.”

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The gentle burnt umber colour of the weathered cedar cladding blends in perfectly with the Karoo landscape, in stark contrast to the pitched roof, whitewashed cottages that are more common in the area.

The house also has green credentials with PV panels for electricity, solar-heated water, water sourced from a nearby spring and a grey water system to irrigate the vegetable garden. Black water goes into a septic tank.

“I have tried to standardise the whole process from design to construction,” Pietro explains. To keep time on site to the minimum, pre-made panels are constructed off-site and taken to the location on a low-bed trailer where they’re put together, rather like Lego.

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“I grew up with Ikea and thought that the same principle of flat packing for furniture must surely work with houses. It’s just larger,” he says.

Pietro offers clients two options: off-plan, which provides a complete pre-designed package coming in at around R15 000/m2 and a customised plan where the client can specify exactly what they want in design and finishes. Costs are determined by finishes, but with both options everything is made off-site.

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“The idea has certainly gained traction as more people want to downscale. It also works for holiday homes, lodges and resorts. Our next project is a hotel in Thailand and we are gearing up to ship worldwide.”


THE ARCHITECT: Pietro Russo, owner of Ecomo.

THE OWNERS: A retired couple who divide their time between this Klein Karoo house in winter and a summer home in Hermanus.

THE BRIEF: An environmentally-friendly building that is totally off the grid.

THE HOUSE: A modern, single-storey, customised, modular Scandinavian-style, cedar-clad two-bedroom, two-bathroom house. It was pre-constructed off-site in a four pod configuration with covered and uncovered decks and stoeps with a sunken lounge and lap pool.

READ MORE: An award-winning sustainable home in Durban