One of the few remaining structures from the old Sophiatown, the A.B. Xuma House, is situated at the corner of Edward and Toby Streets. The house belonged to Dr. Alfred Bitini Xuma, who was elected president of the African National Congress in 1940. Xuma moved to the township in 1927 after studying to become a medical doctor in America and the United Kingdom. Xuma used his property both as a surgery and as a meeting place for community leaders. The Xuma house, which was not demolished during the forced removals, occupied two standard plots in the township. The house itself took up one whole plot and the second plot, left open, was reportedly used for ANC gatherings.
In 2007, the City of Johannesburg acquired the Xuma House and signed an agreement with the THMC that they operate a museum there. Since then, the THMC has used the site for a number of heritage and cultural functions such as exhibitions, community meetings and jazz concerts. In 2010, the THMC acquired the house next door to the Xuma House and in 2011 received a grant from the National Lottery to construct a new Heritage and Cultural Centre there. We imagined the new building was imagined as a modern interpretation of traditional Sophiatown building typologies, with a large cantilevering stoep which extends over the public sidewalk. The building also defines a multipurpose courtyard along with the Xuma House, remembering the yard typologies of 1940’s Sophiatown. By day, the building functions as an enterprise centre to showcase after hours transforms into a performance venue, hosting cultural, arts and creative ventures.
The building reached practical completion in July this year and The Trevor Huddleston Memorial Centre are functioning well in the space. The most important identifying element of the building has yet to be constructed. The sunscreen which wraps around the building’s North and East facades is designed to be more than just a shading and privacy element. The metal lace screen is designed to support an abstracted map of Sophiatown, and create a space for each and every block in old Sophiatown. Onto this map, former residents will be able to find their original home’s positions, and hang a remembrance plaque on the screen to once again make their mark in Sophiatown.