On the eastern edge of Johannesburg’s central business district sits a building like no other in the city. Once a collection of derelict buildings, it’s now a thriving urban complex that goes by the name Victoria Yards.
Beginning construction in 2016 and opening to the public in mid-2018, Victoria Yards is the brilliant project by developer Brian Green that’s breathing new creative energy and opportunities into the inner-city landscape. A once-neglected plot of land, the team behind Victoria Yards built it from the ground up – starting with soil in disrepair. “To tackle the issue with the soil we treated and enriched it with nutrients, before planting fruit, vegetables and other medicinal plants,” Green explains.
On his initial visit to the site, three things informed his approach to the complex: providing food security, community and training – and they’re completely central to everything Victoria Yards stands for. With vocational training removed from public school curriculums, it was important to Green that he was able to highlight a university alternative to Victoria Yards visitors and the local community alike. “I believe it is a novel approach to doing business in an incorporative way – touching on several important social and economic factors – that triggers very positive responses from all that are involved,” Green explains.
He goes about it by curating the very best talent across multiple disciplines, including glass-blowing, book-binding, fashion design, gardening and ceramics. As for the selection process, the tenants need to show a premium product and aesthetic, along with a social contribution in some capacity, whether that’s through recycling, employment, education or training. “We do believe we have reached a very high level of skill and expertise, from our rag trade tenants, to the artists and artisans who create furniture and copper artists, silk screeners, distilleries and the rest,” adds Green. “We have persevered in getting many different artisan studios to join us so that we can showcase a good selection of skillsets to visitors.”
Around seventeen different artisan types now populate Victoria Yards, and they’re mainly from Joburg. Of these artisans, it was denim designer Tshepo the Jeanmaker and bookbinders Young Bucks who piqued the interest of the Duchess of Sussex on a special visit to the complex last year. This was one of Victoria Yard’s greatest achievements of the year, along with recognition by the American Embassy and The British Council.
As for 2020, the goal is to keep pushing towards a model that incorporates skill training, education, commerce and “showing off the fact that our environment fits in with the philosophies of Living The Good Life”. To bright futures!