Southern Africa’s largest science centre

Photo: Supplied AN EDUCATIONAL SPACE: After the Electric Workshop became abandoned, and due to the lack of science centres in Johannesburg, plans to create the Sci-Bono Discovery Centre were made. It was opened on 11 June 2003, more than 10 years after the birth of the vision.

The power station was commissioned in 1906 to power the new electric tram system. However, it was the shortest-lived of three power stations, which included Turbine Hall, as an explosion went off in the boiler house in March 1907.

After the explosion, the Second President Street Power Station was opened on the site that now houses the SAB World of Beer, while the first power station became known as the Electric Workshop, which was used to repair machines and electrical parts.

However, during the years of Newtown’s decline as an industrial centre in the mid-70s, the Electric Workshop stood abandoned until it became a popular party and music venue in the 90s, particularly after the 1994 elections. It was also the venue of the 2nd Johannesburg Biennale in 1997, a significant cultural and artistic event.

Dirk Vermeulen, a retired electrical engineer, was aware of the lack of science centres in the city, and inspired by the Ontario Science Centre in Canada, sought to set up such a facility in the abandoned Electric Workshop in 1990. He worked together with colleagues from the Historical Interest Group of the South African Institute of Electrical Engineers, under the guidance of the Associated Scientific and Technical Societies of South Africa, which became known as the AS&TS Science Centre Committee.

While many people loved the idea, including the Johannesburg City Council, it took many years and lots of money to get the project going, and once it had, it was hindered by the slow rejuvenation of the Newtown Precinct. Hard work and patience did pay off as the Sci-Bono Discovery Centre was eventually launched at the Electric Workshop on 11 June 2003, more than 10 years after the birth of the vision.

Now the gorgeous century-old building is the home of the world-class Sci-Bono Discovery Centre, southern Africa’s largest science centre that avidly supports maths, science and technology education. Hundreds of thousands of school children tour the facility every year thanks to more than 350 permanent interactive exhibits that are available. It’s a one-stop spot for a great educational day out.


Victoria Taylor

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