Regeneration in Johannesburg has seen the transformation of areas that, for years, were declared no-go zones as a result of urban decay and crime. The Maboneng precinct east of the city is one of them.
Maboneng, a Sotho word meaning “place of light”, is a fitting name for a district that has fast become a centre of creative energy for Johannesburg’s urban artists. With a mix of art galleries, and retail and studio space on offer, the precinct draws the inner-city public, as well as the chic, art-going crowd of the city’s northern suburbs, bringing life back into downtown Johannesburg.
In 2008, developer Jonathan Liebmann bought old construction offices and warehouses dating from the 1900s. He collaborated with acclaimed sustainable architect Enrico Daffonchio in transforming the industrial space into a cultural oasis that is now Arts on Main, one of Maboneng’s two main building complexes.
Arts on Main has a historic look and feel; it has retained its industrial aspect, with concrete-coloured walls and a metal fire escape that rises up to the second level of the building. Visitors can take in the view of the urban landscape from the second-level metal balcony, while listening to the industrial noise generated by the factories that still operate in the area.
The complex includes a combination of advertising agencies, retail space, art galleries and private studios. World-renowned South African artist William Kentridge was one of the first tenants to buy a space in the building. Other organisations in the building include the Goodman Gallery and Goethe Institute, as well as local design brand Love Jozi.
Visitors can also shop for quality art books and local designer clothing, or enjoy the culinary fare on offer. Try some coffee or delicious deli sandwiches from Canteen, which is set in a gravel courtyard filled with lemon and olive trees.
Main Street Life, the younger of Maboneng’s two developments, is a transformed 1970s industrial building that houses a variety of establishments. It opened its doors to the public in 2010.
The top floor of Main Street Life is taken up by the 12 Decades Johannesburg Art Hotel, where each individually designed room represents one of the past 12 decades of Johannesburg’s history.
Besides the hotel, Main Street Life also includes apartments, a rooftop events venue and retail stores. On the ground floor, Johannesburg’s independent cinema, the Bioscope, screens local, international and classic films that don’t usually make it to the mainstream cinema circuit.
The Bioscope, which opened in June 2010, is a unique cultural tourist attraction – it screens local films and showcases the creative talent of Johannesburg through talks and live music performances. The popular screenings of the documentary Unhinged: Surviving Joburg, have made the Bioscope a great place to experience the complexity of Johannesburg’s inner city.
From Johannesburg’s M1 south, go around the city and take the M2 east. Take the Joe Slovo off-ramp, followed by the Market Street off-ramp, to your right. Keep right and cross over one set of traffic lights. At the next set of lights, turn right onto Betty Street and immediately right onto Fox Street. Main Street Life will be on your left.