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FFor a unique perspective on Johannesburg’s history – and its talented design community – spend a few days at the 12 Decades Johannesburg Art Hotel. Each room is individually designed to reflect a decade of the city’s past, from its early days as a gold-rush town to its post-apartheid blossoming into a metropolis.
The 12 Decades is a unique combination of South African hospitality and design. Each of itsdozen rooms is the result of a creative reconceptualisation of a decade in the history of Jo’burg, from 1886 to 2006.
While each design team’s brief was to illustrate the most prominent features of their allocated decade, their work also had to incorporate the full functionality expected of modern hospitality. The result is a guest experience that is half art installation and half hotel – in the heart of the Maboneng Precinct, a key area in Johannesburg’s ongoing urban renewal.
The room that represents 1886 to 1896, ‘Vision – Main Street Life’, was designed by Marcus Neustetter and Jonathan Liebmann: an abstract reflection of the ‘speculation that the meteorite impact south of Johannesburg two billion years ago ... was the reason for the gold reef on which Johannesburg was built’.
The decade from 1896 to 1906 is represented by the ‘Sir Abe Bailey Room’, designed by Prospero and Anna Bailey to focus ‘on the era of the great Randlords’ – the magnates who finished on top in the race to consolidate Jo’burg’s many individual claims into massive mining conglomerates, and built themselves opulent mansions on the ridges north of the city with the proceeds.
The room that represents 1906 to 1916 is named ‘This Is the House that Jack Built’ and was designed by Kim Stern. It features a gold rush theme.
Dokter and Misses designed the room for 1916 to 1926. Titled ‘Minehaus’, it was created by designers Katy Taplin and Adriaan Hugo with ‘Bauhaus meets Jo’burg mining town in mind’.
The 1926 to 1936 room is ‘Marabi’, designed by Robyn Symes and Pierre Crocquet, which reflects the post-gold-rush era in Johannesburg and the infectious music that was part of working-class life (marabi is a distinctively South African township music style).
‘Who is Herbert Dlomo?’ spans the decade from 1936 to 1946 and was designed by Lauren Wallett. She drew her inspiration from the Bantu theatre movement that was curbed with the advent of apartheid.
1946 to 1956 is ‘A part love, A part hate’, designed by Love Jozi designer Bradley Kirshenbaum, who ‘brings a sense of humour to one of the most tumultuous eras in South African history with his satirical design’. It was during this time that mass-action campaigns were adopted by the African National Congress.
The late 1950s to mid-1960s inspired ‘Main Street Constellations’, which was designed by Kim Lieberman and ‘explores the theme of connectivity between human beings' by recording and connecting the proprietors of the important thoroughfare Main Street.
Colleen Alborough explores 1966 to 1976 and the influence of the 50-storey Carlton Centre ‘on the way of life during this turbulent period’ in a room named ‘50 Stories’.
1976 to 1986 is represented by the ‘Ponte Obscura’ room, designed by Mikhael Subotzkyand Patrick Waterhouse. It reflects on ‘the mass exodus of the Ponte building’s residents into northern suburbs’ (Ponte, an iconic cylindrical apartment tower in the hilltop suburb of Berea next to Hillbrow, lost many of its blue-collar residents to the northern suburbs of Jo’burg in this decade, mainly due to safety perceptions), and questions whether the building’s subsequent association ‘with crime and urban decay’ is warranted.
‘Catwalk Customs’ by Black Coffee brings to light all that was in vogue between 1986 and 1996, with a focus on the fashion of the decade. The room representing the decade between 1996 and 2006 is named ‘Perpetual Liberty’ – designed by Enrico Daffonchio, it ‘focuses primarily on the stages in setting up and understanding a new democracy’.
TTravel tips & Planning info
Who to contact
12 Decades Johannesburg Art Hotel
Tel: +27 (0)10 410 5460
How to get here
Self-drive, metered taxi or car service apps – and if you’re self-driving, a reliable map app on your smartphone is a good idea, to find the fastest route through Jo’burg’s CBD traffic to the Maboneng Precinct.
Best time to visit
Johannesburg is at its most attractive, with the weather neither too hot nor too cold and rainfall, when it occurs, generally limited to a brief afternoon thundershower, in spring (September to November – the best time to see the jacarandas bloom) and autumn (March to May). The driest months, from June to August, bring cool to chilly days and sometimes freezing nights – although most visitors from the northern hemisphere will be used to worse.
Around the area
The hotel shares the block with an art gallery, the Pop Art theatre, the Chalkboard Café, the Bioscope independent cinema and Pata Pata, a restaurant and live music venue. The Constitutional Court, Constitutional Hill, the Johannesburg Art Gallery, the Joburg Theatre and Ellis Park Stadium are also in the vicinity of the hotel, or a short taxi ride away.
Tours to do
Walking tours of the city, including a custom Art and Justice Tour, can be booked through the hotel and operate daily, depending on demand.
What to eat
There are many bars and restaurants in the Maboneng Precinct. In addition to the Chalkboard Café and Pata Pata on Fox Street, there’s Canteen at Arts on Main, Uncle Merv’s Original Shakes, Little Addis Café (if you’re keen to try great Ethiopian fare) and Eat Your Heart Out. You can also try Sha’p, Living Room and Blackanese Wine & Sushi Bar on Kruger Street.
The 12 Decades Johannesburg Art Hotel is famed for its exceptional views of Johannesburg, with a trendy rooftop area that is a favourite spot for sundowners on a Sunday evening or for a Saturday yoga class. It also hosts events from time to time. See the hotel website for details.