Inside Shapa Soweto – The Revamped Nike Football Training Center in South Africa by C76 Architects

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Completed in 2010, the award winning and state of the art Nike Football Training Centre in Soweto (designed by Canadian Architects RUF Project) soon grew to be the most utilized training ground of its kind. ​Re-opening in 2021 – C76 Architects; collaborating alongside Nike SA and JHB based Futura Design Agency, revealed many exciting additions and extensive developments to the revamped center now called “SHAPA SOWETO”, continuing to ignite the national soccer scene and evolving into an innovative multi-sport facility and vibrant local community hub.​

Part of Nike’s ongoing social investment and commitment to the community of Soweto; the center aims to be self-sustainable & robust, built with maintainable materials selected purposefully for the project’s longevity and overall future lifespan.  Following comprehensive community research, the renovated design attracts engagement beyond sports – envisioned as a safe and freely accessible asset not currently found in the area.

​In approaching the design, C76 sought not to ape an African idiom, but to form an authentic identity – ideas incorporating local materiality and textures of concrete, rammed earth, stone and glass reflect and blend into the contexts of place and culture – the intervention has been designed with, and for Soweto; expressing a ‘rough diamond ‘ sense of untapped potential – encouraging engagement with, and ownership of the space.

​The renovation adds a new ‘social yard’ – Soweto now boasting a professionally designed skate park, basketball courts, 5-a-side soccer fields, athletics oval and a cross country running track surrounding the center. To better integrate visibly and allow open access to the courtyard, the main entrance has moved to the South Elevation – connecting directly to Chris Hani Road. With thoughtfully placed entries and exits, traditional ideas of enclosure, safety and the standard South African typology of high boundary walls and separation and disconnection are instead rejected and the status-quo reassessed. Now having attractive, open thresholds; the center connects with, and reaches into the community both visibly and physically. The wheelchair friendly and secure multi-sport yard now welcomes social activation, encouraging economic and entrepreneurial participation through food kiosks selling  healthy produce grown in the facility’s  gardens.

​Socially-driven programming and landscaping transform the dusty external built-environment into a green escape. An expansive shade cover and several newly planted trees will grow to organically soften the multi-sport courtyard and seating into a urban park- dappling the harsh African sunlight akin to being under a leafy communal canopy.

The carefully designed shading structure layers 4m tiles of structural steel rebar (a building material usually hidden below ground) in three dimensions- parametrically following the path of the sun, filtered through triangular patterns and angled to Nike’s iconic ‘swoosh’. The cast shadows add a new dimensionality to the concrete below; echoing the humble materiality and geometries of African weaving and latticework tradition.

​C76’s passion for considered design and craft is showcased in this ingenious and unusual use of materials. A cost effective solution expressing a unique and contemporary architectural expression turning the underrated symbolically into a starring design feature.

​Connecting through thresholds such as skylights and stairs; these patterns, angles and materials continue into the building itself- a vernacular palette of regional textures, colours and tone shaping the architectural tectonics, space and light. ​The visual language and architectural graphics flow into the building, Modular facilities have been added throughout. The ground-floor adds flexible, multivalent recreational and event spaces, energized and flanked by new and unique artworks and inspirational photos of local sport stars. Public leisure and work spaces are joined  with classrooms a new maker’s space and studio fitted with the latest tech to encourage creativity and foster exploration. Upstairs, adaptable dance and boxing studios join the administration and office level.

​C76 Architects & there collaborators have reignited the facility – updating the lower ground floor with public facilities, custom designed locker and team strategy rooms, male and female shower facilities and the all-important tunnel for the fired up contenders to run out to field. Fueling the field spectacle, added coach and team canopies have been installed on field, with raised earth spectator stands surrounding the games with updated public ablutions and social areas. Soon runners will be safely speeding around the softly landscaped and tree-planted site’s perimeter 1km cross-country running track, and on the new full sized athletics oval.​

Bringing together the collective notions of sport and community through architecture and design, C76 in-conjunction with Nike SA & Futura design agency celebrates the proud energies of Soweto and its people through the center.  a Home not only for aspiring sport stars, but a social haven accessible to all – inviting local social, educational and creative contexts and opportunities to emerge and thrive. Project team: Principal architect: Carl Jacobsz – Collaborator: Warren Wilson

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