Cladding and flagstone paving, manufactured by South Africa’s Revelstone, has played a crucial role in the redesign and revamp of the garden at Cape Town’s Baxter Theatre. The makeover was undertaken to prepare an outdoor venue for the Rolex Arts Weekend, one of the world’s most important and prestigious international arts events, part of which was staged at The Baxter on 7 and 8 February 2020.
Project architect, Julius Burmeister van der Merwe of Masterpiece Architects, said that prior to the revamp, the garden consisted largely of grassed slopes fringed with flower beds.
“The Rolex event required level spaces where furniture could be accommodated and where people could gather and mingle. Timber decking had been initially mooted but on close analysis this solution proved impractical. As an alternative I proposed leveling the slopes into a series of stepped terraces which would not only provide a venue for the Rolex event but would serve as a user-friendly outdoor sanctuary for students and theater goers, as well as for staging subsequent events.
“This approach required extensive earthworks and an upgrading of the garden. In addition to four level terraces, a retaining wall was built to shore up the cut face of the ensuing vertical embankment below what remained of the upper slope section. We wanted to use natural rock for dressing the retaining wall and for the paving, however, we neither had the budget nor the time to quarry natural rock. As an alternative I approached Revelstone whose cast-stone concrete products show no discernible difference to their quarry-sourced equivalent; in fact they look completely natural.
“For example, its Kent Random Edge flagstone pavers mimicked the striations and color of the surrounding rocks at Fallingwater, an American residence in Pennsylvania, designed in 1935 by the famous US architect, Frank Lloyd Wright. “We chose Revelstone’s Saxon Split Cladding to dress the retaining wall as it presents an uneven stone-like surface which resembles cut sandstone. We also used it to clad the plant boxes built into the retaining wall and to dress the risers on the stairs which link the terraces. We opted for another natural looking Revelstone product, Devon Wall Capping, for overlaying the top of the wall.”
Quicker to install than natural stone
Revelstone MD, Alex Cyprianos, says although Saxon Split Cladding is manufactured in one standard size for ease of installation, no face repetition is apparent after installation.
The lower and largest of four terraces was surfaced with a combination of Kent Random Edge paving and grass. This large flagstone paver has a slightly irregular edge and a subtle hewn surface with natural indentations which lend it a time-worn appearance. It was also used to pave the top of the steps and the stone benches which were built into the retaining wall.
“The Revelstone products were much quicker to install than natural stone and they will last much longer,” advised van der Merwe. “We had to create a path on the lawn for high-heel users and we laid the Kent pavers in a random pattern which I designed for the other terraced areas as well.”
Masterpiece Architects was responsible for the conceptualization and all the design work. Landscape architects, Annette Zulch Designs, handled the project management of the installation work. It also managed the greening of the new spaces and a garden upgrade which included plant selection with input from Signature Gardens. The earthworks, the construction of the retaining wall, and the paving and cladding work was done by main contractor, Uvuyo Group. Baxter Theatre marketing director, Fahiem Stellenboom, says upgrading The Baxter garden was a great decision on several levels.
“It has created a beautiful space which patrons and audience members can enjoy while visiting or attending performances at the theater. Most importantly, it has enabled The Baxter to offer the public the opportunity of hiring the space for weddings, functions and corporate events. This means we can generate additional income for the theater especially after its seven-month closure during lockdown. A little-known fact is that The Baxter is not funded by the Department of Sport, Arts and Culture, so it is vital that we find innovative ways to generate additional income by attracting new audiences and the public to our spaces and venues.”
The Rolex Arts Weekend was a culmination of a year’s planning which saw more than 200 renowned artists and arts leaders from South Africa and around the world gathering at The Baxter. The Weekend involved a series of talks, readings, exhibitions and performances, and featured the work of the 2018-2019 protégés of the Rolex Mentor and Protégé Arts Initiative, along with their mentors. Highlights included dance, architecture, literature, music, arts symposia and cinema. “Distinguished guests included celebrated artists such as Wole Soyinka (playwright, poet, writer and Nobel Prize Winner for Literature), American cellist YoYo Ma, South African artist William Kentridge, Sir David Adjaye (Ghanaian-born British architect), Colm Tóibín (renowned Irish novelist, short story writer and playwright), film-maker Mira Nai, and Zakir Hussain (Indian musician and composer), among many others. Tennis player Roger Federer also made an appearance,” said Stellenboom.
Well over 500,000 patrons attend over 2,700 performances at The Baxter annually, making it one of the busiest theaters in Southern Africa. Founded in 1978, it has stayed true to its promise of always being open to all and to stage work of the highest artistic quality. It aims to reflect the cultures of all South Africans on its stages, its foyers and spaces, thereby promoting an interactive and meaningful relationship with its audiences and patrons while generating a spirit of goodwill and nurturing creativity.