Just do it


Shapa Soweto: Home of Nike  

Completed in 2010, the award winning and state of the art Nike Football Training Centre in Soweto soon grew to be the most utilised 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 centre now called “SHAPA SOWETO,” continuing to ignite the national soccer scene and evolving into an innovative multi-sport facility and vibrant local community hub. 

The redevelopment forms part of Nike’s ongoing social investment and commitment to the community of Soweto. The centre 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 and is envisioned to be a safe and freely accessible asset, which is not currently found in the area. 

Image: Dave Southwood

In approaching the redesign, 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 that reflect and blend into the contexts of place and culture. The reintervention 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 includes a new ‘social yard’, a professionally designed skate park, basketball courts, 5-a-side soccer fields, athletics oval and a cross country running track surrounding the centre. 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 with separation and disconnection has been rejected and the status-quo was reassessed. Now having attractive, open thresholds; the centre 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. 

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Image: Dave Southwood

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 an 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. 

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Image: Dave Southwood

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, energised, and flanked by new and unique artworks and inspirational photos of local sport stars. Public leisure and workspaces 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. 

We asked Carl Jacobsz, lead architect at C76 a few more questions about this iconic build. 

Q: What was the design brief?  

The facility that was built in 2010 was mainly a soccer facility, Nike wanted to have a facility that had a bigger variety of sports for more people to enjoy. There was a big focus to create a facility that also attracts more female athletes, before construction there was extensive research done into the needs of young female athletes and what the facility must focus on to make it a place that would be fun and safe for female athletes to express themselves. 

Q: As the fitness centre is just over ten years old (first designed by 2019 SAIA president, Luyanda Mpahlwa) – what was the need to renovate it? What was the state before renovation?  

There were some maintenance issues that needed to be addressed in the existing building, but the need for the renovation was to create a centre for the people of Soweto, rather than only catering towards a centre for soccer only. The need to have a more diverse centre was the main drive behind the renovation. 

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Q: What part of the projects are new and who do they cater for?  

The main addition to the centre is the social yard which is on the southern side of the existing building. We felt that the building previously had its back to the community because the main elevation of the existing building was only visible from the soccer fields, and you could not appreciate the facility when driving past on Chris Hani Road. We wanted to change this and moved the main entry on to Chris Hani Road so that the facility is more connected to its community. The social yard is now the heart of the facility and caters for everybody, with a multi-purpose sports court in the centre, with new kiosks on the sides of the court, all below a big shading structure. The social yard is also connected to the old 5 a side soccer fields, new skate park and new cross-country running track that runs on the border of the facility.  

The social yard is designed to have more of a park-like feel with trees growing through the shaded structure, grass embankments for people to socialise on and planter boxes with indigenous plants in them. There was a real push to plant as many trees and plants as possible to create a safe sports park for all to enjoy even if you don’t participate in sports. Furthermore, there is a new veggie garden, a new 300m oval running track surrounded by grass embankments and trees and numerous new seating areas around the facility. In the building itself we created 2 new studios for dance and gym activities, a new makers studio for creative activities and new change rooms on the lower ground floor for both males and females, plus a new public ablution facility. All areas in the facility cater for people with disabilities. 

Q: Why did you make use of Rammed Earth for some of the structures? 

As a practice we like to work with as many natural materials as possible, unfortunately a lot of concrete was used in this project. We did research into making the skate park entirely out of rammed earth, but because of practical issues and the amount of cement we had to add to the mixture we decided just to stick with concrete. The other massive plus about working with rammed earth was that the rammed earth contractor (Rammteck) used people from the community to help and build the wall which helped with local skills and economic development. Obviously, we had a lot of soil from the site to use for the wall, it all made sense to use the rammed earth technique as much as we could afford to. 

Q: How do you hope the community engages with the sports facility? 

I hope the community feels a sense of ownership towards the facility and that they look after the facility. At the end of the day, Nike did this for the community of Soweto and they invest into Soweto to try and develop, from the grassroots, the next sports superstars. 

C76 Architects and their 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. Fuelling 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 centre. 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.  

Meet the team: 

Client: Nike 

Architects: C76 Architects  

Main Contractor: Billet Construction 

Structural Engineers: Aspire Engineering 

Quantity Surveyor: QS3 Group 

Mechanical Engineers: Polygon Project Engineers 

Electrical Engineers: 1 World Consultants 

Skatepark Consultant: Clint van der Schyf 

Skatepark Consultant: Dallas Oberholzer 

Landscaping: A Forgotten garden 

Images: Dave Southwood 

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