Zip Zap Circus – Competition Entry

Name Zip Zap Circus – Competition Entry
Client Zip Zap Circus
Location Cape Town, South Africa
Status Unbuilt, 2022


The existing buildings on the site belong to a now forgettable engagement of modern architecture with notions of Brutalism. Quite frankly the Artscape Complex looks like what is it was intended to be – a demonstration of old fashioned Kragdadigheid and apartheid power writ large in culture. Our building does not seek to imitate or connect architecturally to the existing building. Rather we seek to tie new with old in terms of scale and site levels only. However, this should not mean that the new building turns its back rudely on the old building. We hope that we have achieved a polite kind of co-existence between old and new without imitating what exists.


In terms of fitting the building into the existing site we took a firm decision to work exactly with existing levels and to tie the internal building levels with the existing pathways above the ground so that the internal floor levels are the same as the external levels. This helps to settle the new building comfortably into the site and promotes easy access into the building from both the ground level and the first level which connects back to the floor level of Artscape and its restaurant.


Pure or platonic geometry is used to define both the plan form and the proportion of the spaces. This is done as we believe that the use of platonic geometry or pure is fundamental in creating spaces which open themselves up to different and varied uses over time. This does not happen when one employs weak geometries. This is born out by the extraordinarily varied ways in which for example building types such as churches are able to offer themselves up to different uses over time. The main space has been designed to satisfy a number of different uses from large to small gatherings of people, banqueting, road shows as well as theatre.


We have proposed a way of being able to naturally ventilate the building by drawing fresh air in at the bottom of the building and exhausting the hot used air at the roof apex through very large chimney like ventilators. Ideally, we would like to cool the incoming air by means of a rock-store cooling system, but we need further engagement of a mechanical engineer to affect this. We have used a similar system designed by Arup at the West Coast Fossil Park, so we are familiar with the system which in our opinion is healthy, sustainable, and cost effective.


The height restriction of 15 meters offers the opportunity to make dramatic spaces within the building not only in the main performance space but in the foyers and public gathering spaces. To this end we have created a set of floating platforms within the foyer space which visually link all the spaces including offices and boardroom. To heighten this connectivity, we have spatially connected the rehearsal space on the third floor with the main foyer area on the ground level so that the public can view the activities of the people practicing or executing dress rehearsals. This idea of bringing the activity within the building to the notice of the general public has been carried through to the principal façade which is the northern façade where we have placed a very large electronic billboard which can be used to display the performances happening inside the building outside the building to share it with the city at large.


Acoustics are crucial to the successful functioning of the theatre. We have used facetted brickwork on the large wall surfaces inside the building. This is like a system we developed with Mackenzie Hoy for a church we recently completed in Somerset West. The acoustic system worked very well. The ceilings will be acoustically treated with acoustic mesh and all corners where possible will be treated with coved corners. The seats and people in the seating will obviously enhance the acoustics when the theatre is full.


This is an acute issue and we do not feel that we have sufficient knowledge to deal with this issue. We propose to grow a forest of trees on the northwest corner of the site which may alleviate to some extent the wind problems. We also believe it is a great idea to extend the circus activities into the plaza – this can be done simply by opening the large sliding doors which are 10 meters in length and to move the stage and retractable seating out into the plaza. We have attended many shows and outdoor activities at Artscape, and I personally believe that when the wind blows the space externally is uninhabitable. Markets or public gatherings get blown to smithereens. Consequently, we believe that any attempt to occupy the plaza outside of pleasant windless days needs detailed research and input from suitably qualified consultants.


One of the paradoxes/contradictions we find in construction at the present time in South Africa is the tension between very tight deadlines and the need to achieve employment opportunities through labor-intensive practices. We don’t believe that there should be a tension if done properly. However, we believe that one should aim to create jobs through construction and the main way to achieve this is through employing labor-intensive systems means of assembly and construction. The technology that we would advocate for the new building is essentially traditional except for the roof cladding which would be labor-intensive in terms of its assembly but highly sophisticated in terms of its manufacture. We believe that because the roof is a main feature of the building that this approach is correct. That being said, even something as simple as a brick can be used in clever ways in order to tackle something as complicated as the acoustics of a performace space.