One of the few remaining structures from old Sophiatown, the AB 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.
In 2007, the City of Johannesburg acquired the Xuma House and signed an agreement with the Trevor Huddleston Memorial Centre (THMC) to 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 received a grant from the National Lottery to construct a new Heritage and Cultural Centre.
The new building was imagined as a modern interpretation of traditional Sophiatown building typologies, with a large cantilevering stoep extending over the public sidewalk. The building also defines a multipurpose courtyard along with the Xuma House, mimicking the yard typologies of 1940s Sophiatown. The brief called for a ‘flexible building’ – a coffee shop, co-working space and lecturing hall by day, and a performance venue by night. This was achieved by creating large sliding doors that can temporarily divide the massive double-volume space into three.
The most important identifying element of the building was constructed a year after the building was completed. The sunscreen, which wraps around the building’s North and East façades, is designed to support an abstracted map of Sophiatown and create a space for each and every block in old Sophiatown. Forcibly removed residents have started recording the location of their former homes on this map by hanging a remembrance plaque on the screen to once again make their mark in Sophiatown.