Zip Zap Academy


Location: Salt River, Cape Town, South Africa
Program: Education, Social
Client: Zip Zap Circus School
Team: Y Tsai, Cathy Skillycorn (CS Architects)
Contractor: NMC Construction Group
Engineer: Sutherland Engineers
Status: under construction
Area: 2000sqm


Zip Zap uses circus arts and performance as tools for social transformation, youth empowerment, team building and community upliftment. It was established in 1992 to offer free circus training to children of all backgrounds, with outreach programmes to those affected with HIV AIDS and youth at risk. Today it is supported by the legendary Cirque Du Soleil in Canada whose train the trainers programmes have enabled many Zip Zap youth to develop their teaching skills.

Zip Zap has long dreamed of having a permanent home. For years, it has operated in a temporary tented structure on leased land. But the tent is not conducive to a teaching environment: noise levels are high, and classes cannot be adequately separated. The school needed a new home with separate classrooms and its own trapeze hall. Now, with the help of their sponsors, Zip Zap’s dream has become a reality.

A private sponsor bought the site in industrial Salt River and commissioned us to design a new building tailor made for the new Zip Zap Academy. While the circus does not own the building, through the generous support of the sponsor, they are able to lease the building for 10 years with the option to purchase at the end of the term. The goal being for Zip Zap to fundraise the capital to buy the building back.

Working with the site conditions to define the massing and orientation, our proposal also aims to capture the essence of the three inherent architectural typologies of the project: the circus, the theatre and the school,

The Circus:
• To capture the traditional magic of a circus, the street façade is designed to generate maximum visual impact. This references the iconic ‘big top’ circus tents.
• The building’s form is sculpted to create an angular street façade which is clad with brightly coloured aluminium fins.

The Theatre:
• The school is arranged like a theatre to highlight the drama and excitement of circus training.
• The triple volume Trapeze Hall takes centre stage. It is surrounded by the u-shaped school building in a layout that is reminiscent of a theatre auditorium with viewing balconies.
• All classrooms and offices have direct visual connection to the training spaces.

The School:
• Zip Zap’s goal is to provide an alternative learning opportunity that will empower children through physical activities and self-discovery. In the design, all the back-of-house operations and training spaces are exposed to immerse the children in the full circus experience.
• Multifunctional training spaces are ideal for hosting and managing a wide range of events.

In partnership with Zip Zap, Sutherland Engineers and NMC Construction Group collaborated on the construction of the new academy as part of their corporate social responsibility initiative.


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