The tallest residential building in Africa is an unsettling Brutalist monolith.
Looking upwards from the inner courtyard of Ponte Tower can be an unsettling experience. A small patch of blue sky surrounded by a 173-meter-high cylindrical matrix of identical windows is all you can see. It is a dehumanizing habitat, an example of “Brutalist” architecture that was truly brutal.
Ponte Tower, also known as the Ponte City Apartments, was built in 1975, and is still the tallest residential skyscraper in Africa. It is a 54-story tube with an open center to allow additional light to reach its inner apartments. The building was designed by Manfred Hermer.
Ponte Tower was a true example of Apartheid-era thinking. The apartments facing the outside of the building were designated for rich white families while the inner apartments, in permanent twilight, were meant for their black servants.
Life in the building became truly brutal after the fall of Apartheid. As crime rose in the once-upscale Hillbrow neighborhood, numerous gangs moved into the building. Ponte Tower became a center of organized crime activity, and life in the building become extremely unsafe. Owners all but abandoned the structure to decay. At one point the garbage piled five stories high in the open inner courtyard of the building.
Should one desire they can rent a 3-story, 6-bedroom penthouse for R2700,00 p/m on the 51st floor, and while the area is still one of the worst in Johannesburg, the building has improved slightly. The drug dealers, once a large presence in the building, have mostly moved to the Sands Hotel around the block.
The building is currently under new ownership, and undergoing renovation.
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