Take a first look at Jozi’s new arts hub
Victoria Yards looks set to be the next big thing
by Dave Mann Posted: 2017/10/29
The walk from the expansive industrial gates and along the paved walkways of the Victoria Yards is an interesting one. Construction workers are knocking about, delivery vehicles are moving in and out of the premises, and alongside the fresh paving, small sprouts are beginning to grow.
I’m in the small Joburg suburb of Lorentzville and I’m here to talk to Brian Green, the developer for the city’s latest arts hub. Unused and in a state of disrepair for decades, the 30,000m² of industrial space is something of a dream project for Green. After being called up by a friend to come through and assess the site as a possible low-cost housing project, Green put forward a better idea – a communal artisanal space that grows from and for the community.
“In October last year, we got everything started and we all put some cash in and started fixing the place up. The idea is to create a space for artisans, musicians, artists and more. We want the space to have weekend markets, artist studios, galleries, and restaurants, and to have them exist in a communal way,” explains Green. “We want to give it a very light architectural touch and as you can see, a lot of the buildings used to be ruins, practically, but we’ve taken what’s remained and really based a lot of the reconstruction on those remaining elements.”
Inside Green’s office, pieces from local artists such as Brett Murray hang on the face-brick walls, while handcrafted ornaments adorn the open plan space. The high ceilings and glazed industrial windows and doors characterise not only the office, but all of the Victoria Yards venues. On a small desk in the corner of the office, building plans hint at a number of exciting things to come.
In an effort to build the Victoria Yards up from its own community, Green explains how the project’s constructions workers, woodworkers, horticulturalists and more, are residents of Lorentzville and its surrounds.
“We want to see the money go back into the area in a sustainable fashion,” says Green. “I really want the space to be as green as possible and so we’ve brought in someone from the community who has a penchant for gardening and horticulture. Almost everything you see growing here, apart from the Day Lilies, is edible. We also have woodworkers and local craftsmen in a lot of the workshops here already.”
In terms of art, the venue has already attracted the likes of the Daville Bailie Gallery and has a few of its studios filled up. Artists such as the controversial painter Ayanda Mabulu, Everard Read’s Blessing Ngobeni, and the Sasol New Signatures Award-winning artist Lebohang Kganye have also started renting out studio space.
Towards the front of the yards, construction for ‘Impi Brewing’ is already underway and hopes to have craft brews on sale at their niche bar and venue soon. In the centre of the space, tiered gardens lead up to an expansive section of the building which Green hopes to turn into a sizeable restaurant, replete with a spectacular view and an elegant fire place.
“It’s really exciting,” Green says with a grin.
Beyond construction, however, there is also the case of the Jukskei River which runs directly through the area. The river, filled with rubbish and slow, stagnant water, is another personal project for Green. “As soon as I saw the river, I knew I wanted to get it cleaned up,” says Green. “Luckily, a small team over at Nando’s just across the road is also looking to get the river cleaned up so we’ll be joining forces to really get it clean and flowing again. If we can have at least 100 metres of clean river for the kids to play and swim in, I think we would have done our job.”
“So when will everything be done?” I ask.
“I don’t believe any venue is ever complete,” Green shoots back. “We don’t have an end date, as we’ll be continuing to grow this place for many years, but we do have an opening date, and that’s right now.”
So there you have it. While construction on many of the venues and buildings is very much ongoing, Victoria Yards is officially open to the public. Pay a visit and walk around, visit a few of the shops and say hi to the artists. Familiarise yourself with the space now, because it’s likely to be your new favourite hangout.
Find out more about Victoria Yards here.