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: completed
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 by 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. A private sponsor bought the site in industrial Salt River and commissioned us to design a building to be tailor-made for the new Zip Zap Academy. 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 magic of circus, the street facade is designed to reflect the traditional iconic circus tents with the goal of generating maximum visual impact.
• The building’s dynamic angular form, clad with a big, brightly coloured aluminium screen, generates a sense of excitement and inspires the children upon entry.
• The street edges of the building are treated with care in order to create an user-friendly urban environment to be shared by circus students and the local community alike.

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 and royal boxes.
• The multifunctional training spaces can be adapted to host a wide range of performances and events.

The School:
• Zip Zap’s goal is to provide an alternative learning opportunity that will empower children through physical activities and self-discovery. To this end the design included many spatially distinct training spaces and classrooms.
• In order to immerse the children in the full circus experience, all the back-of-house operations are exposed & visible from the trapeze hall. This is achieved by a simple didactic signage system and clear windows to all the rooms.
• Using passive design principles, the building is orientated to maximise natural daylight and cross ventilation to all the spaces.


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