Cape Town’s newest theatre rising in Langa

Located just behind the amphitheatre of the Guga S’thebe Cultural Centre in Langa, the Guga S’thebe children’s theatre is being built and shaped by by architectural students and local participants. With completion set for October 2014, the theatre is a collective effort between the Department of Arts and Culture of the City of Cape Town, the architectural faculties of RWTH Aachen (DE), PBSA Düsseldorf (DE) Georgia Tech Atlanta (US), the support of UCT (SA) and the local community.

According to the project website,  a multifunctional space for the numerous dance-, music- and theatre performances is urgently needed in Langa.

The theatre will house a combination of singular rooms for playing music in small groups and a big multipurpose space that can host performances and concerts, which will widen the possibilities for children and young adults and stimulate sustainable development.

Due to Cape Town’s designation of World Design Capital in 2014, the process of building with international students, local artists and the community of Langa have become part of the event. The aim is to create a innovative building by participation, social integration and the implementation of recycled materials. 

Editor of Future Cape Town, Rashiq Fataar chatted with Nora Müller.

Rashiq Fataar: How do you think a theatre of this nature could play a role in transforming Langa?
Nora Müller: The Guga S‘Thebe Theatre is developed through an international cooperation of architectural faculties, companies, experts and the local community. This international network of cooperation brings paramount awareness for the project and its community. Within a current collaboration with University of Cape Town, School of Architecture, we will endeavour to strengthen and retain these networks and further transformation.
The unique architecture enhances the theatre going experience and changes the ‘nature’ of theatre, prompting the production of experimental/alternative performances. The built structure, the atmosphere and the haptic qualities of the space can influence how the theatre is programmed, experienced and treated. Unlike conventional theatre, this unique spatial configuration, combined with its alternative construction material and method, will attract a wide range of producers and performers interested in transforming theatre.
Within in its local context, the theatre further diversifies cultural activities and reinforces Langa as cultural hub. The theatre offers the potential of forming part of Cape Town’s stages for South Africans and foreigners alike.
RF: How is the role of communities improving or changing when forming and shaping a project of this nature?
NM: The building site becomes a meeting place, where young academics, craftsmen, untrained workmen, CEOs, designers, people from various disciplines, cultural and social backgrounds come together – all connected by a tangible process. This vertical networking should be continued and enhanced by the future theatre management.  Furthermore, through well conceived programs, of easily accessible activities for the local community and those from outside Langa, new unique relations and networks could be formed.
The building site and the theatre alike, can only offer employment at a limited scale. It is however, the transformation of this venue into a transmitter of ideas that will sustain future community participation in the form of knowledge, skills transfer and development.
RF: What are the challenges when co-designing a project of this scale?
NM: The Guga S‘Thebe theatre is by far the biggest design-build project until now. Maybe even in a global context. While this means a lot for the organisation on site as well as for the applied building materials and techniques, it doesn‘t make a big difference for the design process. Each architectural project is complex regardless the scale.
Architecture is often observed as the product of the great idea of one individual but in reality architecture is produced in a complex process of trial and error, testing, modelling, discussion and teamwork. This process is one of the key aspects of design-build projects, as the students have to design together – aside from their individual projects.
The challenge is to negotiate the design with students, clients, future users and engineers. Design-build projects are challenged by availability of time and budget. The design process is not finished before the construction starts. It is continuously developed and adjusted according to the achieved progress on site and the accessibility of affordable material.

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