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

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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.

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