Maverick Life


Structure and Culture: A theatre built like a hilltop townsquare

Artist's impression of the Baxter (Image courtesy of the Baxter Theatre)

Built on the slope of Table Mountain, at the foot of the University of Cape Town, the Baxter Theatre opened in 1977, providing "a stage for all types of professional entertainment – music, drama, ballet, opera and intimate theatre". In this episode, we chat to architect Jonathan Green about the architecture of the building, and explore how the structure shaped and influenced human interactions, perceptions and behaviours.

Located in Rondebosch, Cape Town, the Baxter Theatre opened its doors in August 1977. Designed by South African architect Jack Barnett (Born 07.12.1924 and died 09.07.1996), the structure was unusual at the time; first because of its shape, a floating roof that lets the outside landscape interact with the inside of the building and light soften the edges of the bricks. Then, because the University of Cape Town, “unlike other institutions like at the time, Nico Malan which is now the Artscape Theatre, refused  to adhere to the exclusive policies of making the audiences white only. From that perspective, it’s a really important building. It was designed to be an inclusive building,” says Jonathan Green, founding partner of SOMEarchitects in Cape Town.

Building of the Baxter Theatre with the Concert Hall wagon wheel being erected (Image courtesy of the Baxter Theatre)
The Baxter under construction from Main Road (Image courtesy of the Baxter Theatre)

In 1977, Barnett was awarded the Institute of South African Architects Award of Merit for the Baxter Theatre. Says Green: “The people need to love the building they’re in. And when they do, that love is reciprocated by the building”. ML


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