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Guga S’Thebe Theater –
Gold Prize in architectural design, Emerging Designers, Honorable mention in responsive design

Design architecture: Georgia Institute of Technology, Atlanta (Daniel Baerlecken, Katherine Wright); RWTH Aachen University, Aachen (Bernadette Heiermann, Nora Mueller); PBSA / University of Applied Arts Duesseldorf (Judith Reitz, Franz Klein-Wiele, Thomas Schaplik); imagine structure, Frankfurt A.M./Cologne (Arne Kuenstler); CS Studio Architects, Cape Town; collaboration: Transsolar, Stuttgart; University of Cape Town – UCT; University of Applied Arts Detmold; Project Initiation: Kristina Bacht (AIT-ArchitekturSalon).

Photos credits: Odette Herbert, Wieland Gleich, RWTH / PBSA/ GATECH, Red Bull Workshop


While the Guga S’Thebe Children’s Theatre is located in Langa, the oldest township in Cape Town, South Africa, its design roots span three continents, a multitude of universities and countless hands. Since “Guga SthebeKudala Usophulela” is a Xhosa idiom for welcoming many generations and different types of people from all walks of life, it attracts many local children, adolescents, artists, as well as, international tourists. Focused on sustainability, this self-initiated design + build project was developed alongside the local community to meet their diverse needs for a place to hold theatric productions, concerts, church services, marriages and most importantly festivals with a focus on impacting the younger members of the community; in the aim of preparing and nourishing the community for the future. The solution is a large, flexible interior and exterior multi-purpose space as an extension to the preexisting cultural center. Combining eleven re-used shipping containers, their new home offers a performance space with multiple stage configurations for up to 200 people. Cape Town, with its expansive harbor, opens the opportunity to re-use shipping containers, that are abundant in townships as safe and inexpensive shelters. Due to a container’s thermal underperformance, the project worked to rethink container architecture as a sustainable prototype, which could lead to new typologies for the private sector in South Africa. To provide adequate insulation for such a large surface area, locally abundant clay and straw were rammed into recycled wooden frames and applied to the exterior surfaces. Reclaimed wooden fruit crates were painted and arrayed in local weaving patterns, to protect the insulation. Spanning the large performance space, V- shaped roof trusses provide a clerestory, allowing light to surge through polycarbonate panels, eliminating the need for artificial light during the day. Thick theatre curtains and art installations from reclaimed materials absorb sound, while the shipping container ridges act as diffusers. By combining recycled materials with earth constructions, this project creates affordable transferable building prototypes, which can be easily reconstructed by inexperience or shortly trained laborers and adapted to other building typologies. The construction techniques used for the theatre were designed by and for unskilled laborers, consequently they can be easily passed on and implemented in the local architecture, already making use of the same material palate. The completion of the project serves the community both functionally and didactically. Working in conjunction with: the local architect for the preexisting cultural center, the City of Cape Town, and members of the local community; design workshops began at three universities. Students were met with design challenges such as, sourcing local recyclable materials to be combined on the construction site by inexperienced workers over five construction phases. Innovations in construction and material techniques allowed students to complete the project within budget constraints, while teaching the local community skills that can be transferred toward the advancement of Langa. This project was larger than creating a much needed space: its construction creates a dialogue about innovative sustainable building methods through participation, social integration and implementation of recycled materials