News Column

Where culture will be at play

July 8, 2014

A theatre built with recyclable materials aims to rejuvenate the Langa Cultural Heritage Precinct.

The opening of the Guga S'Thebe Cultural Centre almost 14 years ago was meant to be the launchpad for uplifting cultural programmes and services in Langa. However, following a number of internal problems over the years, it failed at this and instead became more of a tourist destination. Together with the Old Pass Office Museum and the old Post Office building, it attracts about 1 000 tourists a month.

Now the new theatre that is being built behind the cultural centre, and which is part of the World Design Capital project by the city's Department of Arts and Culture, aims to change all this and rejuvenate the precinct and the community.

Zayd Minty, manager of the arts and culture department, says the theatre will provide a platform for the people of Langa to not only develop enriching programmes but showcase their culture to the rest of the world.

"It is a human right for people to express their culture, humanity and history. Culture is something that is constant. Through this theatre the community of Langa can promote their own culture and for the city this is important as it will show our range of diversity."

The city is engaging in a "design thinking process" on how best to utilise the precinct. Once completed the theatre, with its unique design, will be at the centre of it . Its design includes 11 shipping containers, steel columns that bear a wooden roof, standard gang nail trusses assembled to form a spatial roof structure, insulation made out of straw and clay and a faÇade consisting of recycled wood, bricks and polycarbonate.

Those who have helped build it include a group of German students from the RWTH Aachen University and PBSA DÜsseldorf. Others who have been involved include Georgia Tech in Atlanta; the School of Architecture at UCT; Carin Smuts, a local architect; AIT, a German magazine for architecture, interior and technical solutions; and Imagine-structure - a German structural engineering company.

"The structure will be quite flexible and it was designed for that purpose," says Minty.

"The shipping containers - the idea of the Germans - will form the outside of the structure, while on the inside it will provide a number of spaces for a variety of functions.

Nora MÜller, an assistant professor at the Institute for Building Typology and Design Basics in the architectural faculty at RWTH Aachen University, says that depending on future management the theatre could become home to a variety of arts and a haven for a variety of socio-economic initiatives.

"It should be open for all kinds of performing arts. The architecture intends to keep the building as a flexible structure, (with) no fixed stage. The space should be adaptable to the programme" says MÜller.

Still to be formally named but called the Guga S'Thebe Children's Theatre for now, its design includes a soup kitchen, office, recording studio as well as a big space that could host up to 200 people.

"With the focus on children there will be a performance project running from August to October. It will be done in co-operation with Dutch and German designers and Happy Feet, a youth project, as part of World Design Capital 2014."

However, the project, which started in October 2012 with construction starting in July last year, did not come without hiccups, says MÜller. The combination of using recyclable materials and the input from a number of different parties with their own views and opinions, meant tackling the project was a challenge, especially in terms of time management.

"But it was also extremely inspiring. The many different interested parties challenged decision-making processes but produced interesting architecture. The construction periods were connected to the university vacations in Germany, which meant we started construction in July - in the worst rain and wind."

Completion of the project is earmarked for October but already the people of Langa and the rest of Cape Town are coming together. MÜller says it has been happening during the construction phase, with people from across the city and elsewhere in the world working with the community towards a common goal.

"The building site has become a meeting place where young academics, craftsmen, untrained workmen, CEOs, designers, people from various disciplines and cultural and social backgrounds, come together, all connected by a tangible process. This vertical networking should be continued and enhanced by the future programming. A balanced composition of easily accessible activities for the local community and events that attract people from outside Langa could generate similar positive interventions.

"The building site as well as the theatre as enterprise can only offer temporary labour on a limited scale. Of more importance is the possibility of making a communicative process and the transfer and exchange of knowledge and skills."

Minty says the city will ask the people of Langa for their feedback so that by the start of next year they will have a long-term outline of what types of programmes and events the community wants.

Cape Argus

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Source: Cape Argus (South Africa)

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