Jozi Retail Precinct

PHOTOS Dook PRODUCTION Annemarie Meintjes WORDS Tracy Greenwood

A new development in the Joburg CBD sets out to reimagine the historically significant Newtown district.

Creations from more than 100 exciting African brands located in a historically relevant architecturally designed space are what sets Work Shop New Town apart from more conventional shopping experiences in Johannesburg. So says precinct curator Julian McGowan, co-founder of the design agencies Source and Southern Guild along with his partner Trevyn.

“Joburg has always had a fantastic assortment of malls filled with international brands and chain stores,” says Julian. “There are also a lot of destination suburbs where the streets are lined with beautiful boutiques. We wanted to offer something different.”

Situated on what was once the culturally and historically significant Market Square, the new precinct is pedestrianised and offers safe underground parking for 2 500 cars. There’s a mall, a hotel, a gym and Nedbank’s offices within the precinct, as well as The Potato Shed, a restaurant and craft brewery in the space that about a century ago served as actual potato sheds for the burgeoning city of Johannesburg.

Multi-award-winning interior architect Maira Koutsoudakis, CEO of the Life Group of Companies and co-founder of Life Interiors + Architecture + Strategic Design, says her group aims to be the change they wish to see in the city. The reinvention of the Newtown area, especially The Potato Shed, and the much-anticipated launch of the Gentlemen’s Arthouse, a heritage molecular mixology bar in the 1911 Edwardian Washrooms a few metres from The Potato Shed, were designed by her practice.

“Excavating culture and revisiting heritage in a contemporary way is what’s modern today,” says Maira. “Context and location require a celebration of Newtown, the revival of the inner city, a celebration of the icons of the past – the theatre district, Miriam Makeba and the sassiness of the Sophiatown groove – in an edgy space that celebrates the city.”

Julian shares Maira’s excitement about the precinct in general. “The potato sheds were an integral part of Newtown for much of the 1900s. The market was a bustling hub for business and entrepreneurial success. “A century ago, Newtown was the gateway to the city. It was the heart of industry, with factories, breweries, tanneries and fish markets all making it a commercial hub. It has political relevance, with evictions and uprisings taking place in the area, but is also a place of cultural celebration, a place where poetry, theatre, music and dance have always played a big role. Now, with its rebirth, we are able to continue this legacy of social and commercial exchange.”

Julian worked with Adri van Zyl of Atelier Interiors to achieve a contemporary environment that would attract tenants and push boundaries in terms of both display and store identity.

“We wanted to design something ground-breaking, something that hadn’t been seen in the country before – something resembling a mix between a market, a design fair and a department store,” Julian says. “Adri shares my visual language and she really grasps the dynamics of retail spaces, so she was able to distil my concepts and vision into a workable architectural design.”

Newtown, says Julian, is where all the action is right now, and there’s a lot to look forward to.

“African fashion is about to enter an era of global recognition, and Work Shop New Town will be the platform for the most relevant and exciting brands to collaborate and share a creative space. Our plan is to continue refining and adding to our assortment of the best African brands we can find.”