This Neighborhood's Creative Spirit Is Spurring Johannesburg’s Rise

In Maboneng, a new hotel by architect David Adjaye joins a slew of art collectives and design hubs inside revived heritage buildings.

The facade of The Cosmopolitan (LEFT). Inside Yswara tea room.

Johannesburg has long sat in the shadow of its sister city, Cape Town, whose breathtaking topography of mountains and beach, not to mention worldly restaurants and hotels, has earned it much deserved adulation. But Joburg is starting to show signs that it deserves a fresh look from South Africa–bound travelers. Ground zero for the city’s ongoing transformation is the regenerated downtown Maboneng Precinct, an inner-city swath that became a wasteland of shuttered factories and boarded-up buildings in the aftermath of apartheid. The arrival of the collective Arts on Main, in 2009, spearheaded an urban renewal movement, led by artists and entrepreneurs, that has turned unsightly facades into canvases for colorful street art and derelict heritage buildings into community hubs for culture and design. Here, a lay of the land.

Situated inside a defunct Victorian structure, The Cosmopolitan is an upmarket retail development that completely changed the makeup of the neighborhood when it opened, in 2015. A sculpture garden and foliage-filled courtyard mark the entrance to a collection of local purveyors such as the small-batch coffee brewer Firebird; Department Store, a concept shop with rotating curators; and the new location of Hazard Gallery, which showcases contemporary art in a lofty space. The standout, though, is Yswara, an all-pink, Moroccan-style tearoom that stocks an extensive selection of gourmet African blends. Designed by Mia Widlake of South African firm Studio 19, patrons order pots of oolong and honeybush from velvet couches adorned in geometric shadows cast by patterned wood window screens.

Hallmark House, designed by David Adjaye and Aimee Henning.

Across the road is the Museum of African Design—the continent’s first cultural institution dedicated to design—which puts on avant-garde exhibitions. If it’s Sunday, the nearby Arts on Main hosts a lively market, selling pan-African cuisines and apparel from upstart fashion designers. The complex is also home to beloved printing workshop David Krut Projects and the studio of pioneering South African artist William Kentridge. One of the most anticipated additions finally opened its doors in June: the industrial-mod Hallmark House, a former diamond-polishing center turned boutique hotel, by architect David Adjaye and interior designer Aimee Henning. The rooftop restaurant is the place to go for Karoo lamb and rooibos malva pudding before retiring to one of the minimalistic rooms outfitted with colorful African headboards and secluded balconies. On view: Maboneng’s newfound vibrancy.

On the rooftop of Canteen, a restaurant at Arts on Main.
All Stories