Hallmark House, a hotel inside a former diamond-polishing centre retrofitted by Sir David Adjaye, is poised to give Johannesburg’s most up-and-coming district a new lease on life.
A city founded on gold and sustained through forced labour and class division, Johannesburg is the ultimate apartheid relic, showing leafy living spaces for the rich, and a carbon-infused inner city that’s peppered with crumbling art deco facades and blocks of brutal concrete from the turbulent, isolated 1970s. Toss post-apartheid optimism into the mix, and you have a city happily living on the edge.
One area frequently cited as a success story is the Maboneng precinct, which kicked off in 2008 when a family of developers began the task of private regeneration for mixed use. Cafés, bars, galleries, a backpacker lodge and a container mall would rise up in a neighbourhood of migrant labourers.
A prime mover has been the locally based architect Enrico Daffonchio, who has devoted much of his practice to the development of this nexus in Johannesburg; in 2014, he showcased his plans at the Venice Biennale, no doubt to lock into the vision of overall director Rem Koolhaas.
The city’s uneven development plan, however, has fuelled an ongoing discussion. A shudder ran down the collective hipster spine in March 2015 when nearby working-class residents, fearing eviction, took to rioting on the streets that border on Maboneng. In defense of the area’s social engineers, though, they have incorporated more than just bars and galleries. There is also some low-fee private schooling, and their cultural patronage doesn’t only benefit art school graduates.
But the idea of upward mobility with an African ethic was taken further with Sir David Adjaye. As an antidote to the bad news about inner-city conflict, CEO Jonathan Liebmann of Propertuity estate agency announced that he and the London architect would be adapting an existing building: the 16-storey Hallmark House, previously a diamond polishing centre.
Today it advertises itself as an “opportunity to live a curated life and through it, a layered lifestyle.” These layers pretty much reflect the ethos of the Maboneng vision. Only now, instead of venturing out into the streets for art, food and living experience, you can get these things under one roof. There are 150 apartments and 46 hotel rooms, covered parking, a conference centre and a basement jazz bar. Almost complete are penthouses, a spa and a rooftop pool.
The hotel occupies the fourth and fifth floors. On entry, the lobby area is noticeably cool, not overdressed, and modern, incorporating a lounge area, a bar, a café and an open-plan dining area. Dark walls, rich greens and golden trims give the space a club-like finish. There’s vintage mixed with local design, and lighthearted African sculptural elements you might expect would be carved out of earthy raw wood, are cast in brass – a remix of expectation, in the same (ironic) vein as the work of Philippe Starck.
For the rooms, local interior designer Aimee Henning of Malica Design took as her inspiration the surrounding streets. The nearby fashion district and the wild geometries of the Vlisco wax print are ubiquitous: “I chose about six to eight different Vlisco fabrics that determined the colour scheme: greens, blues, dirty pink and a dirty brown,” says Henning. “The rooms had to be bright and lighthearted given the context of the city, which is quite hard. We intended to create a soft interior, and then you have this kind of harsh ‘wow’ view from the bedrooms.”
Adjaye’s architectural interior work has incorporated bold colours on the balconies and on the building’s concrete facades. The passages of each floor range in hue from muddy browns and blues to dark greens and rusty reds. All rooms face outward, and each balcony has plants growing off it; eventually layers of greenery will create a big outdoor garden.
For Henning it’s not only the exterior, but also the interior that can alter preconceptions. “The idea with the interior was to bring young, influential change-making types – and tourists – back into the city. To create a movement towards a change in perception of the CBD and to add to Maboneng’s regeneration.
“The design had to take into account that the majority of the inhabitants are young, edgy, mainly black professionals. So it was catering to that market. Nothing was intended to be too flashy or too fancy; that would make it feel like it was exclusionary.”
Hallmark House Hotel,
54 Siemert Rd, Johannesburg.