Friday, February 10, 2012

13 Things to Love, See, and Do In Live-Work-Play Braamfontein

The other weekend I went on a tour of Braamfontein lead by P.A.S.T. Experiences, a local, woman-owned small tour company that specializes in downtown Johannesburg.  

Before getting to the must-love tidbits, a bit of background.  Braamfontein, the home of Witswatersrand University, has been undergoing a major revitalization effort for the past several years led by 3 major players.  Adam Levy, a young lawyer,  turned real estate developer,  kicked off the revitalization when he, inspired by New York's Soho lofts, bought a ten story building converting it into high-end flats, moving into the top floor penthouse himself.   Since then, he has developed art galleries, office space and  renovated historic Alexander Theater.   Another now major player, a couple, got into the game modestly, investing in one student housing property as a way to earn extra income.  And then they jumped in whole hog with the goal of creating a livable, safe neighborhood for students, with outdoor open spaces, cafes and bars - and lots more housing.  You can't walk very far in Braamfontein without seeing one of their Southpoint properties.  And thirdly, the longest time player, Wits, is still at it upgrading and renovating their properties and ensuring art and music and theatre is alive and well in Braamfontein.  So below are just a few, and really this is just a start, of the many things to love about Braamfontein.

Right across from one of the big Southpoint Student residences is this cool little courtyard called The Grove (pic doesn't come close to doing it justice.) Anchored by the colorful orange and yellow Lamunu hotel, it offers an outdoor space for the community to hang out.  Holding the right side is a new minimalist coffee shop, that although doesn't (yet) have the quickest service, makes a pretty spectacular latte.  And the screen below the GROVE sign?  That is a big outdoor TV showing soapies and sports.    

See that red unreadable word in the pic to the right?  That says Branson, as in Richard Branson, founder of Virgin.  The Branson Centre of Entrepreneurship, partly funded by Virgin Unite, trains up and coming young stars, who otherwise couldn't afford it, in the art and skills of entrepreneurship.   

Don't know what this building is but loved the orange tiling detail - doesn't take much to add some zip and zing to an otherwise un-noteworthy building.  Love that Braamfontein feel!!

One of my all-time favorite things about Johannesburg is the commitment to public art.  By the year 2040, Jozi has the goal of becoming the largest open air art gallery in the world!!  Already, there are 300 pieces of public art throughout the city with a big emphasis on the CBD (central business district).  1% of the city budget is mandated to go to investment in art. This huge eland plant pot -- you can't see but those are plants growing out of the top (on purpose) --is an example of several large pieces at various entry points around the city.  Large enough so as not to be missed.   

Come March 2012, this is a location you will want to come to! The corner, known as University Corner, or more delightfully, as UniCorn, is home to a Wit's building and former Shell petrol station which are somehow, cleverly, being renovated to house  the up-to-now unhoused Wit's collection of African Art - the largest collection in the world mind you.  As a side note, on top of the building is a now defunct revolving restaurant.    Imagine - a little art gallery browsing followed by a drink up high over the city.  Begin the clammer to get it back in operation!

Maybe we could get sightings of crazy Tom Cruise

A mural from internationally known graffiti artist, Rasty.  Interestingly, due to South Africa's isolation during the Apartheid era, SA's graffiti art is lagging about 10 years behind the rest of the world.  

 Here is a shocking fact.  Did you know Wits Choir is one of only 3 fully integrated choirs in the country? From what our guide, and Wit's choir member, told us, most choirs will have white singers on one side with a white conductor and black singers on the other with a black conductor.   Some nonsense about white people not being able to sing "black people's music" and vice versa.  In any case, the Wit's choir is supposed to be fantastic and it is now high on my list of must-do-soon things.  

Would you look at this building!  So utterly nondescript and not worth a second look.  Except that the top two glass enclosed floors are a very exclusive event space which allow a 360 degree view of the city redefining what we think of when we think of the Joburg skyline.  I am now hard at work increasing my social circles so I can get invited to some fancy party up there.  

The sheer genuis!  Three things off your to-do list in one stop.  Throw your laundry in, get your hair done, answer your emails.  

 The Braamfontein trees.  30 of these fun, whimsical sculptures line Juta Street.  Please note that in case you thought these were another of those hands-off art pieces, you are welcome and encouraged to add to the spirit of Braamfontein by spinning the trees' inner cut-outs.   

How can you not love a building painted like this?  Not to mention Lomography is a very hip shop specializing in avant garde and retro camera equipment the uses of which I can't even begin to grasp. 

Kitcheners Carvery Bar -- 100 years old but don't let its venerable-ness fool you.   It is now a venue for a range of eclectic live music ranging from funk, soul and old school to house, hip hop and techno.


  1. Braamfontein rocks. Hope to see you around town.

  2. Neighbourhood goods Market brought such a nice vibe and variety of people to the area. It has become a hangout for some of SAs free spirited people together.

    I am certainly excited about the changes that has been happening and of course it doesn't hurt that these revamps, new structures and renovations does wonders to our property value.