Soweto Theatre in South Africa: An aesthetic cladding solution with Caïman® steel sheets

A state-of-the-art theatre for the community: The Soweto Theatre in Johannesburg, South Africa stands out with its distinct shape and colour concept. It consists of three venues flanked by two double-curved wall-like buildings that presented a true engineering challenge. Apart from colourful ceramic tiles, the aesthetic cladding solution Caïman® by ArcelorMittal was used for the outer skin of parts of the facades.

Detailed information

The Soweto Theatre does not look like a traditional theatre complex. It consists of three isolated theatre venues of varying sizes and equipment. These so called 'boxes' are different in colour with curved edges and can be identified from the outside.

The three volumes are connected by a common foyer and flanked on two sides by 'fortress walls,' two multi-storey buildings that contain service areas and provide a frame for the boxes, creating interior spaces comparable to streets. These buildings that act like walls protecting the three venues are curved both horizontally and vertically and thus presented a real engineering challenge. Their parabolic shape arises from the function of the building - the theatre service installations on the upper floors require more space than the publically used ground floors.

The public square in front of the building is covered by a tent-like canopy structure to provide shade and can also be used as an informal performance area.

Theatre in a box

Theatre requires a disconnection from the outer world - a sealed space just for the audience and the performers. In the theatre world, this is known as the black box.

In apartheid oppressed Soweto, there were no official theatre spaces. Performers were historically nomadic and so were their theatre spaces. Boxes were used to achieve the required isolation from the outside word.

The theatre boxes of the Soweto Theatre provide seating for 430, 180, and 90 people. Whereas the main venue has an end stage, an orchestra pit, fly tower, and buttress, the two smaller ones are more flexible. Stage and seating arrangements can be adapted as needed.

The three boxes are clad in ceramic tiles in the three primary colours of yellow, blue, and red, and can therefore easily be distinguished from the outside. The different shades and tones of the tiles make the walls more vibrant and alive when glistening in the sun. The tiles were provided and assembled by local craftsmen.

The two flanking buildings on the other hand are clad with steel: ArcelorMittal Construction South Africa provided its aesthetic Caïman® solution for the facades of these buildings. The steel sheets overlap like scales and shimmer in golden shades.

A theatre for the people

The Soweto Theatre is the only facility of its kind in the Jabulani community. The aim was to bring life to this mainly dormitory town, and to bring the arts to the people. Built between the residential area and the train station, the theatre is integrated into people's daily route from their homes to work.

It is a building for the community that should make them feel connected and invite them in to experience the performing arts; primarily, traditional African art forms such as dance, choir singing, and oral poetry, but also European style theatre is included in the programme.

An extensive study of local and international theatres preceeded the design, and with the help of a theatre specialist, a modern multi-purpose performing arts centre with top-notch acoustics and lighting was created.

Additional information

Theatre specialist: Denis Hutchinson
Project manager: Settlement Planning Services (Setplan)
Principal agent & quantity surveyor: QS Bureau
Electrical engineers: CKR Consulting Engineers
Mechanical engineers: Ubunye Engineering Services
Acoustic engineers: Pro Acoustic Consortium
Tensile structure design: Tension Structures

Project information

  • Johannesburg
  • South Africa
  • Architect:
  • 2009 - 2012
  • Client:
    Johannesburg Property Company
  • Engineering firm:
    Themba (structural & civil)
  • Contractor:
    Group Five & Inkanyeli Projects
  • Photographer:
    ©Leon Krige