Brixton joins high street elite with modern mixed-use space, 29 Chiswick
Developments in Jozi can be prone to hipster hype, with overambitious promise fizzling into disappointing underdelivery.
So, when a new development touts small and significant rather than "wow-wee", it's noteworthy.
29 Chiswick is a venture ticking many of the right boxes. It's thinking through urban development challenges for a city with competing needs, while hitting the mark for originality, sustainability and aesthetic appeal.
29 Chiswick houses the café Breezeblock and architectural firm Local Studio. It's the brainchild of David Du Preez, chairman of the Johannesburg Urban Cyclists' Association, who owns Breezeblock, and Thomas Chapman, of Local Studio.
Locals loved the idea of a restored heritage building as foundation for a mixed-use space in Brixton and also liked the idea of a nice coffee shop in their hood.
They've done "nice". Breezeblock is an ode to retro styling, with modern flair and function exquisitely imagined by artist Justin Brett.
The building was once a greengrocer, drapery and later a Chinese restaurant.
There are still markers of its previous life, like the intact Victorian colonnade and signs pointing to one of the first Greek Orthodox churches in Johannesburg.
They've placed big attention on small detail and added art features and décor finesse that pays homage to their location, bordering the Melville koppies.
The centrepiece is an elaborate relief sculpture of succulents by Zukile Malapane. It's offset by a glassed wall with doors that divide the indoors from a courtyard. Outside are retro-styled concrete screen walls, wraparound benches and thriving succulents that make it perfect for lazy afternoons.
At the heart of the courtyard is a striking artwork by Brett made from reclaimed tiles.
Du Preez says Breezeblock's menu, pricing structure and space are meant to be inclusive and to match the socioeconomic profile of a suburb that's more tatty than trendy.
His philosophy is also to compost waste and recycle and reuse where possible.
"I always say that if both parties feel they're getting a fair deal then you have the best deal," says Du Preez, who's a hands-on owner.
Above the restaurant are Chapman's studio and the second storey of a two-bedroom apartment for rent.
The floors are steel-frame structures that include corrugated polycarbonate cladding for cost-effective thermal regulation. The glassed northern side of the studio and apartments optimise natural light.
It's the mixed-use model of a centralised space to live, work and eat in, Chapman says.
"The building glows in the dark but it doesn't tick off our neighbours. We've adopted a very democratic process in the building of 29 Chiswick," he says.
The next steps for development will involve collaboration with local property owners.
Chapman says this allows different visions to be realised and a unique character for a reimagined Brixton to emerge.
Already on the cards is the relocation of Whippet Cycling Co from Maboneng and the establishment of Du Preez's bike rental business and cycling school.
All are boons to rethinking the employment crisis and jump-starting economies.
29 Chiswick is multidimensional, appropriate and responsive to current urban needs - not bad for what started as a quest for an excellent cup of coffee.
Breezeblock offers healthy breakfasts, lunches and snacks. For breakfast they serve classics, like scrambled eggs on toast, oats and granola, baked pancakes and huevos rancheros.
For lunch they serve a range of “ultimate” sandwiches on homebaked buttermilk and health breads, hearty salads and super-affordable options for students. They serve breakfast until 12 noon and lunch until 4pm.
• This article was originally published in The Times.