Creative Uprising Hub (at Transwerke) at Constitution Hill

more than a year ago
Your eyes have likely glanced at the Transwerke building as you drive to Constitution Hill. Perhaps you've noted its curves and dusty, maroon finish just before its peeling, yellowed walls slip into the recesses of your mind; just another Joburg Art Deco relic losing the battle against time. It would be a mistake to think this: while the building may be anchored in the past, its tenants are resolutely forward-focused. In fact, they're creating Joburg’s future from the structures of its history. 

What was once the Queen Victoria Maternity Hospital and then flats for Transvaal provincial staff, is now Constitution Hill’s Creative Uprising Hub (at Transwerke). Inside Transwerke’s unassuming walls, more than 60 visual artists, makers, artisans and supporting organisations are changing the creative landscape of Johannesburg.

The Creative Uprising Hub (Transwerke) at Constitution Hill
The Creative Uprising Hub (at Transwerke) at Constitution Hill

The building was acquired five years ago by Constitution Hill and regenerating it has been a mammoth task. As of 2023, three of its four floors have been upgraded to accommodate studio spaces for makers and artists. It's also a heritage building, so bureaucratic rules apply when making any changes.

The Transwerke spaces have a subsidised rental fee that includes Wi-Fi and electricity. Constitution Hill is not just an absent landlord giving access to their property; they have created an ecosystem where they take on a nurturing role. It has been a constant process of learning and experimentation as they turn Transwerke into a vital creative node. Here, artists and small businesses can grow with the support of Constitution Hill and affliated organisations. 
The Transwerke building's lobby, which started its history as a hospital

As we entered a dim and unassuming lobby, with stark, white corridors branching off its sides, the hospital’s original design was still apparent. We also spotted a sign advising us that running in the halls is an absolute no-no.
A phantom scent of disinfectant haunted us as we walked down one of the corridors and into the first studio. From there, the pieces of why the Creative Uprising Hub (at Transwerke) is so special began to fall into place.

The surfaces and walls of Nombuso Dowelani’s studio are covered with half-finished works and materials that contrast the empty, clinical corridors. The artist moved between canvases telling us about her work and studio. She pointed out that being able to see what the other tenants do leads to a mutual exchange of energy. “Almost every day something is happening here,” she emphasised. Indeed, as we walked through the maze of corridors to the next studio, the thumps, scrapes, and shuffles of work could be heard over the hum of halogen lights.
A work-in-progress in Nombuso Dowelani’s studio

Our next stop was The House of Diva. After Dowelani’s work-focused studio, we entered a boutique clothing store. The House of Diva has transformed their space with colourful rails of dresses and shirts, as well as plush couches and books. It was not the first nor the last surprise that day, but it highlighted how Constitution Hill gives each tenant the freedom and support to create a space where their work can thrive. The House of Diva is a place to linger and we had a hard time leaving the shelves of African fabric prints and clothes to make our way to the next two stops: SoulShooz and Floyd Avenue Apparel.

After her partner challenged her to make traditional Zulu batata sandals comfortable, founder Sisi began experimenting with different designs. The result was a pair of sandals, made from discarded tyres, that her partner was happy to wear to a wedding. SoulShooz was born, and Sisi says that from there, she realised this was something that would allow more people to celebrate their culture. Using old tyres and fabric off-cuts, the team at SoulShooz create batatas that compete with Birkenstocks. In a similar upcycling vein, Floyd Avenue Apparel use vintage denim to make some of the coolest jeans and jackets you can find. Their cutting-edge designs have been shown on local and international catwalks, and wearing Floyd Avenue is making the statement that you have the inside track on Joburg style. 
Where the magic behind Floyd Avenue Apparel happens

Our last stop was The Arts Company Soweto (TACS), a printing studio and workspace. The company was initially based in Soweto and ran a formal printing studio alongside children's art programmes, the latter they say is now sorely lacking. With pandemic complications, they needed to find a new home, and the Creative Uprising Hub (at Transwerke) provided that.
Inside the printing studio at TACS

We were still processing the sights and sounds as we stepped into Joburg's autumnal sun. We had only seen a fraction of what goes on behind the tenants' doors at the hub, but what struck us most was the charge of energy we felt after seeing what's happening in our city.

It was now easy to see why the Creative Uprising Hub (at Transwerke) is essential. In a city of hustle where fortunes can change in a nano-second, few spaces foster the freeing environment needed for culture to thrive. The Creative Uprising Hub (at Transwerke) is just a start in this process. Still, it offers a glimpse of a city where community, creativity and autonomy are prioritised. We’re excited to see how the hub continues to develop. If you’d like to see its inner workings for yourself, you can join OpenStudios.Joburg for their studio tours on May 27–28, 2023. 


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