The pride and joy of Soweto
The word Jabulani has become familiar the world over as the name of the official match ball used for the last football World Cup held in South Africa in 2010.
After becoming famous for a ball that followed an unpredictable path through the air, the word has now returned to the attention of the world’s media thanks to a courageous example of cultural and social architecture.
Inaugurated on 15 May 2012, the Soweto Theatre designed by the practice Afritects is located in the Jabulani district of Soweto, South Africa.
Notorious in the days of apartheid, Soweto (an acronym for South Western Townships) is the most populous area of Johannesburg, which in turn is the largest metropolitan area of South Africa.
Built as part of a large-scale urban redevelopment project costing around 13 million euro, Soweto Theatre is a new urban landmark and the cultural hub of an enormous area that is slowly overcoming its social and economic difficulties nineteen years after the first free, multiethnic elections were held in 1994.
The client, the City of Johannesburg Property Company, wanted to engage citizens and promote a sense of belonging.
In particular, it wanted the design of the external envelope to highlight the community purpose of the building.
The structure of the theatre’s external volumes reflects the different uses of each space.
The curved shapes and bright colours achieved by using simple but perfect 10×10 cm ceramic tiles (Trasparenze series from Ceramica Vogue in colours Cobalto, Oltremare, Cedro, Pompelmo, Rosso and Corallo) and the different dimensions of each block spark curiosity and invite the observer to enter.
When assembling the volumes, colours and shapes, the young, multiethnic group of architects from Afritects drew inspiration from children’s toys.
As Johannesburg’s director of arts, culture and heritage Steven Sack explains, the theatre was designed in the form of a shoebox because the latest research conducted in Canada and the UK has shown that this is the ideal shape for the purposes of acoustics and sound insulation.
Noting that 40% of the population of Johannesburg lives in Soweto, he added that it is more practical to bring the theatre to a million people than a million people to the theatre!
During the 4-year design phase, the architects examined a number of theatres in South Africa and other countries with the aim of transferring all the best practices to the Soweto Theatre project.
An internationally renowned specialist oversaw all the technologies needed to ensure the best acoustic and lighting performance.
Intended for theatrical performances as well as music, dance and concerts by Soweto’s famous gospel choir, the building extends over two levels and three main blocks.
The largest block has a fixed stage and 420 seats and is equipped with a fly tower and a space for the orchestra.
The other two volumes have 180 and 90 seats respectively and are more flexible in terms of the stage and seating layout.
The public space outside the theatre, with a large marquee to offer protection from the rain and sun, can be used as an additional area for performances, for relaxing between shows or simply as a meeting venue.
The most surprising and at the same time most structurally complex aspect of the project was the parabolic shape of each volume.
Partly thanks to this engineering challenge, the building has become an icon of new African architecture, while its location in the centre of Soweto bears witness to South Africa’s new economic and cultural vibrancy.
Ceramica Vogue, Trasparenze series
Cobalto, Oltremare, Cedro, Pompelmo, Rosso, Corallo
Water absorpion (ISO 10545-3): 2,5%
Chemical resistance (ISO 10545-13): GB min
Resistance to deep abrasion (ISO 10545-6): compliant
Stain resistance (ISO 10545-14): compliant
Frost resistance (ISO 10545-12): compliant
Modulus of rupture and breaking strength (ISO 10545-4): >40 N/mm2
Slip resistance (DIN 51130): compliant
Thermal shock resistance (ISO 10545-9): compliant
Crazing resistance (ISO 10545-11): compliant
Linear thermal expansion (ISO 10545-8): compliant