Victoria Yards is fostering an eco-system of artists and artisans. It’s emerged from the chop-shop detritus as a unique re-imagining of the metropolitan landscape, combining a creative community, social development and urban greening.
A once-dilapidated industrial complex, Victoria Yards is situated in Lorentzville on the eastern edge of Jo’burg’s CBD. It’s a sprawling 30 000m2 development of old warehouses and historical buildings, stretching across the Jukskei River, which runs through the property. Originally conceived as an urban city farm-school, it’s become a magnet for likeminded artistic souls like Blessing Ngobeni, Craig Smith and Dario Manjate, who are seeking to reinvent city living. The buildings, which house studios and workshop spaces for fine artists, metalworkers, glass-blowers, silkscreen printers and furniture-makers, have been given the lightest touch. Old plaster and graäti remain and there’s a strong sense of identity and place as the exposed brickwork reveals a multitude of texturally rich, historic layers.
‘The eco-system’s definitely showing signs of working,’ says Brian Green, property developer and the creative visionary, alongside his partners. ‘One tenant will need a chair designed and they’ll go to Norris Mwape. Another will need a gate made and they’ll ask Justin Wells. So it’s working quite beautifully and people love working in this environment.’
Metalworker Justin Wells echoes this. ‘It’s important where you spend every day of your life. I’d rather spend it in a garden than in industrial grime,’ he says. Here, there are walkways lined with thriving edible gardens – lemon verbena, cabbages, fig and apricot trees, mealies and more – and ascending meadows leading to an enormous building that will be morphing into a restaurant and an event space. Doubleshot will soon be oïering a much needed caffeine fix and there are plans for a smaller daytime eatery.
The development’s rapidly evolving to meet the community’s needs and to ensure it’s a commercially viable project. ‘Victoria Yards, remarkably, has stayed close to what I originally envisaged,’ says Green. ‘My first idea was to green it up. I love gardens and I always seem to end up creating them in developments. Gardens are big drivers for the success of a place – greenery softens the rawness.’
The idea behind the urban agriculture project, explains Green, is to associate Victoria Yards with all the farms in the area, such as Siyakhaya, in order to establish a vegetable market and facilitate agricultural education. An artisan school is also in the works and a fair to showcase artisans and their craft will be held with MAKESA later this year.