Lorentzville, home to Nando’s Central Kitchen since 1991, is a small suburb nestled between semi-industrial Bertrams and Judith's Paarl, on the eastern edge of Joburg’s CBD. The neighbourhood has degenerated over the years, but – Nando's sparkling new refurbishment aside – change is afoot.
Just across the road from the Central Kitchen is Victoria Yards, a collection of early 20th century warehouses and industrial buildings that spans 30,000 square metres. By the time developer Brian Green and a few partners came upon it, it was derelict. Which suited Brian just fine – as the man behind Joburg's popular 44 Stanley, he's well versed in transforming down-and-out properties destined for demolition into desirable destinations.
Brian and his team spent much of 2017 developing Victoria Yards into a creative hub. ‘The idea was to turn it into an urban city farm, then later I wanted to fill it with artists and artisans, and some kind of educational element that would slot into a specific gap in the South African educational market, specifically towards artisanal skill sets development,’ he explains. Although still a work in progress, there remains a strong focus on the development of the surrounding community through work as well as educational training opportunities. ‘We want to formalise training so that people can come in from the community and walk out with an artisanal accreditation.’
The space is already home to a number of different spaces, from a gallery and a gin distillery, to a coffee roastery and artist studios (look out for acclaimed artists such as Blessing Ngobeni, Roger Ballen and Ayanda Mabulu).
Perhaps one of the most striking features of Victoria Yards are its walls, which have not been painted or plastered over. ‘I love what Brian's doing in exposing the layers as opposed to covering them up,’ says Brett McDougall of the Joburg Heritage Foundation. ‘When I look around, I see the various textures of brickwork, right from the stone base of the original 1913 buildings through to later periods. From a heritage perspective, the buildings tell a story.’
It was this that captured the imagination of Nando's design curator and launch creative director, Tracy Lynch, who saw in Victoria Yards the perfect setting to present the Nando’s Portal to Africa launch exhibition. ‘The rawness of the buildings was just too extraordinary not to be inspired by,’ says Tracy. ‘The intention of the space is to create an opportunity for creatives to build and grow their businesses surrounded by other creatives and like-minded people, and that made it the perfect context for our Nando's Portal to Africa website launch.’
The exhibitions at the launch presented not only the work of the 30 contributing designers, but hundreds of their collaborators and workers in each of their studios and factories. Take, for example, designer David Krynauw, whose factory based in Victoria Yards employed some 10 people prior to collaborating with Nando's. Today, he has 60 people working under him, and that number is growing – as is the craftsmanship and reach of the South African design story.