Newtown Junction: mixed-use office and retail development
A huge mixed-use office and retail development, Newtown Junction, is being built behind Museum Africa where the old potato sheds of the Market building stood. References to the old poultry shed, the original station master’s residence as well as the potato sheds will all be included in the design of the new development.
Although a mall seem to be the complete antithesis of what this area stands for, it might be just what the precinct needs. It will hopefully attract through-traffic from the inner city to the south- west which has a growing residential population: from 2007 to 2011 empty office blocks have been converted into approximately 44 000 new apartments.
With office space as well as a hotel, a gym, cinemas, food outlets and retail stores , Newtown Junction is bound to encourage pedestrians and street-life both in the evenings and over week-ends. A walkway and historical railway bridge will link Newtown Junction with Museum Africa and the Market Theatre, creating a connected and walkable city experience. Construction work started in April 2013 and excavation of the four level basement is about 80 percent complete. The main contractor WBHO has begun work , and the entire project should be completed in two years.
In 2004 I wrote an article entitled ‘Re-envisioning Greater Johannesburg South African Development in the first decade after Democracy’ African Arts Winter 2004. Back then I wrote about how, post 1994, the Gauteng Provincial Government had earmarked funds to the tune of R3.5 billion for the development of various programs to revitalize Greater Johannesburg.
Several of these programs were cultural heritage and tourism projects, one of which was the Newtown Cultural Precinct.
Here the intention was to build on the existing cultural facilities in that area:
- Museum Africa
- Workers’ Museum
- the Market Theatre
- Kippies jazz club
- several performing arts, visual arts and music organizations.
The R300 million development had several components:
- housing units (the Brickfields development)
- the Metro Mall and taxi rank ;
- the link from Braamfontein to Newtown over Joburg’s symbolic ‘river of railway tracks’: the Mandela Bridge.
These structures and other institutions in Newtown have contributed to Newtown as a cultural and heritage space. Institution such as:
- the Sci-Bono Discovery Centre at the old Electric Workshop
- Anglo-Gold Ashanti’s amazing adaptive re-use of the Turbine Hall
But it never quite worked and Newtown never really ‘took off’
However, something has never ‘quite worked’ : the stark alienating space of the bricked Mary Fitzgerald Square is empty, soulless and largely unused; and there is no sense of street life and neighbourhood despite several attempts since 2004 to revitalize this area.
Now, nearly a decade later, there is yet another attempt to fill this area with life and activity.
Will this be the re-envisioning that finally works for Newtown? Let’s hope so.