The Windybrow Theatre will finally get the attention it deserves. This heritage site will be restored to its former glory with the help of various role players the likes of Saint Gobain, who are one of the main contributors of products and systems aiding in the restoration efforts. “This is the first attempt at a passive house retrofit in South Africa and if successful, it will be the blueprint for all heritage buildings going forward”, says Atisha Gopichund, specification and support manager at Saint-Gobain.

Saint-Gobain, Gyproc, Isover and Weber products were supplied via Ceiling & Partitioning Distributors as part of the refurbishment exercise on this historical project. BRE Passivhaus are responsible for the project management and design of the refurbishment.

The products specified were dry-lining with Gyproc Soundbloc, Gyproc Rhinolite Projection Plaster (skim), Isover Energylite, Isover U-Thermo Felt, Sagex EPS 25mm, Isover Aerolite, Isover Factorylite, as well as Weber Plaskey and Key-It. The project coverage is 4 500m².

The present day heritage site in Hillbrow now serves as a community hub for the arts but was originally built as a family home in 1897 by mining engineer Theodore Reunert, who arrived from the UK to work on the Kimberley diamond mines.  In time to follow, it was used as a boarding house and then as a residence for nursing students. Over the past two decades it had fallen into severe disrepair.  The Theater was declared a national monument in 1974 and thereafter became a traditional theatre in the late 1980s and a cultural centre in 1993. The department of arts and culture declared the development a cultural institution in 2005.

According to the website, the Windybrow Theatre, with its fanciful turrets and green and white timber facade, typifies the Victorian architectural style of Johannesburg at the end of the 19th century. The Landlords, wealthy entrepreneurs who controlled the diamond and gold mining industries, built exuberant and extravagant mansions, of which the Windybrow Theatre in Hillbrow is a fine example.

Because of its architectural and cultural significance, the Windybrow Theatre is renovated again and will soon become the focal point of a new cultural precinct, sponsored by the Department of Arts and Culture. The refurbishment project started in October 2010 and is scheduled to be finished in July this year.

Three buildings adjacent to the theatre will be revamped and several streets around the theatre will become pedestrian walkways. Once completed, the Windybrow Theatre will become even more of an asset to this historic part of Johannesburg.

According to Gopichund, the preservation of the heritage site will be completed to serve as a hub for arts and culture in the surrounding community. She says the plan is to extend the project by urban rejuvenation in the area to continue upon the successful completion of the theatre refurbishment.

On-site training
Gopichund says that all the on-site contractor staff was trained by Saint-Gobain in the use and installation of Saint-Gobain’s products and systems relevant to the site installation requirements. “Tjaart Pretorius, Jason Wittstock and the technical support team of Saint-Gobain were responsible for providing training to the construction workers on site ensuring that the theatre is restored in accordance to specification requirements.”

Today the theatre is better known as the Windybrow Centre for the Arts. The primary focus of the theatre is to facilitate cultural and creative exchanges between South African theatre practitioners and those from other parts of Africa.

At present, the theatre consists of three performance spaces: the main theatre with 250 seats, the small theatre with 60 seats and a tiny 20-seat auditorium. It also has two rehearsal rooms. The drawing room of the original house has been converted into a pub. Another room has been converted into a coffee shop.

The Windybrow Centre for the Arts regularly hosts new stage productions. In addition, the theatre focuses on developing burgeoning talent through workshops while the Windybrow Children’s Theatre offers free community programmes to encourage children from the surrounding low-income areas to become involved in the dramatic arts.

Saint-Gobain Gyproc
Tel: 086 027 2829