Bringing a little magic to Joburg CBD
Once the home of bankers and financiers, city’s historic financial district is now incubating creative talent. HELEN GRANGE takes a look
ONCE the illustrious headquarters of the old Barclays Bank in Joburg’s CBD, Number 84 Albertina Sisulu Street is now home to a thriving hub of wannabe creatives, learning their way to become movers and shakers in the advertising industry.
Built in the 1940s by one of old Joburg’s foremost architects, Gordon Leith, this iconic sandstone tenement – National Bank House – is where you’ll find the new Red & Yellow School of Logic and Magic, the well-known Cape Town advertising and marketing college that opened the Joburg campus a year-and-a-half ago.
The school has made this prestigious address its own, an inspired learning environment full of modern office furniture and funky decor within preserved interiors, a tasteful juxtaposition of new and old, defined by expansive, parquet floors, and large windows overlooking some of Joburg’s most historic and beautiful buildings.
The tenancy of Red & Yellow School is part of the revival of the city centre, and is also about bringing the creative spirit back to the CBD.
“We are enthusiastic about the CBD rejuvenation, so we partnered with our landlords, Urban Ocean, on a mission to bring the creative industry back to the CBD,” says Lyndi Lawson-Smith, the Joburg campus director.
If you’re a creative, the word is out that the Joburg CBD is the hottest place to be, and for the Red & Yellow School, which incubates talent for careers in graphic design, art direction and copywriting within the advertising industry and has plans to train 100 000 students from across Africa by 2020, it’s the perfect address.
“The Joburg CBD is an ideal springboard for our growth strategy into Africa,” says Lawson-Smith.
Adjacent to National Bank House is The Cornerhouse, from the same period and built in the same architectural style, where other creative companies have set up office. These include WeThinkCode, training software engineers in digital code, and The Digital Academy, creating innovative digital products in Africa. The APPS and software company Empire State has also applied to set up in The Cornerhouse.
“The idea is to have a creative hub in the old financial district of Joburg’s CBD, and it has definitely gathered steam in the past year. Initially we didn’t want educational organisations, but these aren’t typical or traditional learning institutions. They’re all in the creative, digital space,” says Herman Schoeman, CEO and director of Urban Ocean property developers, which owns the historic buildings.
Currently, the Joburg campus of Red & Yellow School hosts 36 students, mainly commuting from townships surrounding the city on its six-month Springboard Learnership Programme, which provides opportunities for previously disadvantaged students to study marketing and advertising, before being deployed to relevant agencies and companies where they apply the theory in a six-month internship programme.
This year’s intake is its third, and so far, the school has launched a number of creatives into careers in agencies such as Joe Public, M&C Saatchi, Publicis Machine, Y&R, King James, 99c, FCB and BBDO.
One of the handicaps of being in the CBD, however, is the lack of student accommodation, so many of the students commute long distances daily. To address this, Urban Ocean is planning student accommodation two blocks away in another historic building, St Andrews, at the corner of Rissik and Commissioner streets. “It will be dormitory-style accommodation, nicely decorated, for 160 students, and we’ll open it this year,” says Schoeman.
The city’s new generation of creatives also have access to choice food offerings, with Urban Ocean’s launch last September of the City Central Food Hall at 85 Commissioner Street, where offerings include freshly pressed juices, tasty burgers, dim sum, smoothies and bunny chow. “Instead of another weekend food market, we wanted to create something for the working folk in the city, so it is open during business hours, from Monday to Friday. Social events are also lined up for this venue, including book fairs (it also houses Bridge Books), a design market, and sundowners on the rooftop.
Thus, the Joburg CBD is gradually joining the inner-city trend started by the fashionable Maboneng Precinct, as creatives invent a pocket of cosmopolitan sophistication for themselves in the historic heart of the city.
And instead of financiers and bankers, this part of the CBD will spawn digital, software, marketing and advertising talent, in line with Africa’s modernised needs in this space.
National Bank House was built in the 1940s, and was the heart of the old CBD financial district. It is part of Joburg’s regeneration.
ABOVE: 84 Albertina Sisulu Street, now home for creative talent in the advertising industry. BELOW: City slickers at the new City Central Food Hall in Commissioner Street, corner Harrison Street.