Fox Street Studios is a mixed-use development, with restaurants and retail on the ground floor, and residential / studio units above. The building was originally only 4 floors, and each floor above the ground level is dedicated to a single unit. Balconies were added along the northern length of each unit, with timber planter boxes acting as the balustrades, with the plants inside screening the balconies for privacy. The timber provides a soft, natural contrast to the industrial black facade. On the ground floor, timber decks have been built in front of the restaurants and shops, allowing the retail to spill out onto the pavement.
A new 2 level penthouse has been constructed on top of the existing building. The external skin of the penthouse is entirely double glazing with black aluminium frames, and the interior structure is black steel with very few internal dividing walls. This gives the exterior a light, transparent, industrial aesthetic, whilst maximising the views over the city to the north and west, and making the internal spaces light and open. The glass facades are set back, allowing for a wrap-around balcony on the lower level on the northern and western sides, a balcony off the bedroom on the top level, and deep overhangs to shade the glazing.
The interior design of the penthouse picks up on the modern, industrial aesthetic by means of a monochromatic palette and the use of steel and copper, whilst introducing warmth with the bamboo floor. The living area in the north-western corner is a dramatic double volume space, with a steel spiral staircase leading to the study and bedroom suite on the first floor.
The design of the penthouse proves that urban living can be sophisticated and comfortable, like living in a contemporary villa in the sky.
What was the brief?
The building was initially a 3 level factory with a basement, then a printing shop, essentially a little white cube on the corner of Fox Street in Johannesburg’s Maboneng* precinct, an urban area situated on the Eastern side of the central business district that the client; Johnathan Liebmann, and our firm were collaboratively regenerating.
Enrico always looked up the history and original plans of the buildings in Maboneng before venturing into his design process, and it was during this deep dive into the past of the precinct, that he found that there was a house on that very corner 100 years before.
As he says; "So, the concept was in essence, to put back the original house that was on the corner on top of the factory building."
Johnathan’s request was for a penthouse at the top and Enrico designed the building while they were traveling in Berlin. They found themselves sitting on the rooftop of SoHo house during Fashion Week and the idea sparked of a black building interspaced with glass and a plenitude of plants; an anomaly in the C.B.D. at the time.
*The word Maboneng means “place of light” in Sotho.
Maboneng originated in 2009, when property developer Jonathan Liebmann bought a cluster of warehouses in a run-down city block bordered by Main Street, Fox Street, and Berea Street. Liebmann named the development “Arts on Main” and filled the space with galleries and prominent artist studios. Liebmann’s company, Propertuity, bought more buildings in the area and named the new district Maboneng.
What were the key challenges?
It was a challenge to build the steel and glass “house” on top of an existing building and so we made use of a specialised crane (shaped much like a spider) which hoisted all the pieces of steel to the upper levels and allowed for assembly on-site, which resembled a Meccano set.
We wanted to include the views of the city despite it being a relatively low building, fortunately there’s an open gap of most of the city skyline from the penthouse to the buildings alongside, which allowed us to maximise on the view and for light to pour into the space through the introduction of huge double storey glass panes.
We introduced some vertical gardens, a profusion of greenery, which in turn brought its own series of challenges, as when building with planters, one has to consider the irrigation systems required for the façade and ensure that these wouldn’t create a downpour onto passers-by below or the ground-level restaurant guests. It was also initially a hard-sell as people were, at the time, not used to it in South Africa, especially in the CBD.
Additional information on Maboneng precint?
Vogue article by Todd Plummer
October 31, 2017:
“Fox Street Studios is a versatile studio and exhibition space for the development and production of content related to Urban Things. Working as a nexus where academics, practitioners in the built environment, and artists pass through, the space affords useful dialogue in shaping work and building partnerships.” - https://www.foxstreetstudios.com/
Fox Street Studios information download: https://252c40b4-17f0-455b-ab19-3edb5f348ef8.filesusr.com/ugd/9fbb5e_1781ec43168840929e8493fd4142290a.pdf
Arts on Main:
"Arts on Main is a mixed-use creative hub in Johannesburg’s urban neighbourhood, the Maboneng Precinct. The premises consists of artists’ studios, galleries, workshops, eateries, and various office and retail spaces, offering visitors a range of events, arts and merchandise. It is a unique environment for the city’s creative community to develop and share ideas and engage in multiple innovative experiences in one venue."