THE TALLEST RESIDENTIAL building in Africa, Johannesburg’s Ponte City Apartments is a 54-storey cylindrical tower with a brutalist design.
The skyscraper was marketed upon completion in 1975 as a high-end housing complex, with plans to incorporate shops, cafes, and an indoor ski slope. Typical of apartheid, the desirable outward-facing apartments were reserved for white people, while the dark inner apartments were rented to black people.
Things didn’t go as planned.
Only a decade after Ponte was built, the residences began to fall apart due to poor management. It wasn’t long before the rich upper class residents moved out and left Ponte as a playground for criminals, drug lords, and brothels. A three-storey pile of rubble and trash built up in the centre of the core.
The decaying tower became a symbol of everything bad about South Africa.
Building owners have considered various failed solutions, including a 1998 proposal to turn the building into a prison. But in the past couple of years, the development may finally have turned a corner. Now owned by the London-based Kempston Group, the building is undergoing renovations meant to draw back middle class renters, and residents report dramatic improvements.
Filmmaker Philip Bloom captured stunning footage from inside the building in 2012. We’ve posted some highlights with the video below.
Looking up the core:
The view from an outward-facing apartment:
The view from an inner apartment:
The pile of trash and rubble:
This 2007 renovation plan fell through during the financial crisis and was never realised:
But new renovations have happened recently:
Inside a new Ponte City apartment:
Now watch the full video from Philip Bloom:
- Amanda Macias and Gus Lubin