Ponte City

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Ponte City Apartments
Ponte City Apartments (3464450399).jpg
General information
LocationBerea, Johannesburg, South Africa
Coordinates26°11′26″S 28°3′25.5″E / 26.19056°S 28.057083°E / -26.19056; 28.057083Coordinates: 26°11′26″S 28°3′25.5″E / 26.19056°S 28.057083°E / -26.19056; 28.057083
Roof173 m (567.6 ft)
Technical details
Floor count55
Design and construction
ArchitectDesigned by Manfred Hermer
Other information

Ponte City[1] is a skyscraper in the Berea suburb of Johannesburg, South Africa, just next to Hillbrow. It was built in 1975 to a height of 173 m (567.6 ft), making it the tallest residential skyscraper in Africa. The 55-storey building is cylindrical, with an open centre allowing additional light into the apartments. The centre space is known as "the core" and rises above an uneven rock floor. When built, Ponte City was seen as an extremely desirable address due to its views over all of Johannesburg and its surroundings. The neon sign on top of the building is the largest sign in the southern hemisphere and advertised for the Coca-Cola Company prior to 2000.[2] It currently advertises the South African mobile phone company Vodacom.[3]


The principal designer of Ponte was Mannie Feldman, working in a team together with Manfred Hermer and Rodney Grosskopff.[4][5] Grosskopff recalled the decision to make the building circular, the first cylindrical skyscraper in Africa.[6] At the time, Johannesburg bylaws required kitchens and bathrooms to have a window, so Grosskopff designed the building with a hollow interior, allowing light to enter the apartments from both sides.[6] At the bottom of the immense building were retail stores and initial plans were to include an indoor ski slope on the 3,000-square-metre (32,000 sq ft) inner core floor.[6] The building is located 35 minutes from the OR Tambo International Airport and almost within walking distance of the inner city with theatres like the Market and the Civic within 5 km (3.1 mi).[3]


During the late 1980s, gang activity had caused the crime rate to soar at the tower and the surrounding neighbourhood.[3] By the 1990s, many gangs moved into the building and it became extremely unsafe. Ponte City became symbolic of the crime and urban decay gripping the once cosmopolitan Berea area. The core filled with debris five stories high as the owners left the building to decay.[7][6] The "Mysteries of the Abandoned" TV show said a lot "debris" was garbage thrown down the empty core and in the 5 story high mound they found over 20 bodies either from suicides or killed by gang activity.[8] "Mysteries of the Abandoned" also said one of the higher floors was well known for the illegal criminal activity that occurred.[8]

There were even proposals in the mid-1990s to turn the building into a highrise prison.[3] In 2001 Trafalgar Properties took over management of the building and began making numerous improvements.[9]

New Ponte[edit]

Ponte City (left) with Hillbrow Tower

In May 2007 Ponte changed ownership and a re-development project "New Ponte" was put in motion. David Selvan and Nour Addine Ayyoub under Ayyoub's company, Investagain, planned to revitalise the building completely.[10] The planned development would have contained 467 residential units, retail and leisure-time areas. Over the next few years, the Johannesburg Development Agency planned to invest about R900 million in the areas around Ponte City such as the Ellis Park Precinct project as well as an upgrade of Hillbrow and Berea partly in preparation for the 2010 FIFA World Cup.

The subprime mortgage crisis caused the banks not to provide the funding required to finish the revitalisation. The project was cancelled and ownership was given back to the Kempston Group.[10]

Current status[edit]

As of 2017, the building has been totally refurbished, and is now "desirable" and "affordable". The population is reported to be approximately 80% black, and to include immigrants from various countries.[11]

In the arts[edit]


  • One of the final shots of the 2009 film District 9 is of the tower.[12]
  • Director Philip Bloom dedicated a documentary film titled Ponte Tower.[13]
  • Ingrid Martens filmed the documentary Africa Shafted: Under one Roof,[14] entirely, over two and a half years, in the Ponte lifts.
  • One scene in the 1988 movie Alien from L.A. starring Kathy Ireland was shot in the interior of this location.
  • The skyscraper "Peach Trees" featured in the 2012 film Dredd is heavily inspired by Ponte Tower.
  • The final scene of the 2014 movie SEAL Team 8: Behind Enemy Lines was shot in this location.
  • Substantial scenes of the 2015 movie Chappie was shot in this location.[15]
  • A battle scene was filmed inside the tower for the 2016 movie Resident Evil: The Final Chapter.[16]
  • Many scenes in Love Supreme's music video for the song "Lonely Feelings" were filmed in this location.[17]
  • A scene of The Last Days of American Crime of 2020 is filmed in the center of the tower
  • The interior of the tower appears in Beyoncé’s Black Is King.


  • German writer Norman Ohler used the Ponte as the setting for his book Stadt des Goldes ("City of Gold"), "Ponte sums up all the hope, all the wrong ideas of modernism, all the decay, all the craziness of the city. It is a symbolic building, a sort of white whale, it is concrete fear, the tower of Babel, and yet it is strangely beautiful".[18]


  • South African photographer Mikhael Subotzky and British artist Patrick Waterhouse won the Discovery award at the Rencontres d'Arles photography festival in 2011 for their three-year project "Ponte City", photographing the residents, interiors and exteriors of the building, and which produced a series of giant tableaux, made up of hundreds of contact sheets, presented in towering light boxes.[19]


See also[edit]


  1. ^ Pampalone, Tanya (2009). "The Full Ponte". Maverick. Archived from the original on 26 March 2015. Retrieved 25 August 2014.
  2. ^ "Ponte City Apartments". Emporis. 2009. Retrieved 21 November 2009.
  3. ^ a b c d Davie (9 November 2007). "Ponte: revival of a Joburg icon". pub. Archived from the original on 3 May 2009. Retrieved 21 November 2009.
  4. ^ Chipkin, Clive, Johannesburg in Transition, STE Publishers, 2008
  5. ^ Editors note in Housing in Southern Africa, 2006, "Archived copy" (PDF). Archived from the original (PDF) on 25 May 2006. Retrieved 4 March 2010.{{cite web}}: CS1 maint: archived copy as title (link)
  6. ^ a b c d Hanes, Stephanie (12 February 2008). "Ponte City – a South African landmark – rises again". The Christian Science Monitor. Retrieved 21 November 2009.
  7. ^ Smith, David (11 May 2015). "Johannesburg's Ponte City: 'the tallest and grandest urban slum in the world' – a history of cities in 50 buildings, day 33". The Guardian. Retrieved 19 September 2020.
  8. ^ a b www.sciencechannel.com https://www.sciencechannel.com/show/mysteries-of-the-abandoned-science. Retrieved 21 January 2022. {{cite web}}: Missing or empty |title= (help)
  9. ^ Redmond, Gillian (10 January 2003). "Johannesburg Landmarks". Randburg Sun. Amethyst.co.za. Retrieved 21 November 2009.
  10. ^ a b Pampalone, Tania (16 December 2008). "Ponte project crashes". Mail & Guardian Online. Retrieved 21 November 2009.
  11. ^ 'The building creaks and sways': life in a skyscraper
  12. ^ Sailer, Steve (21 August 2009). "Neill Blomkamp's Giant Apartheid Metaphor". iSteve.com. Retrieved 23 August 2009.
  13. ^ Bloom, Philip (12 October 2012), Ponte Tower, retrieved 17 September 2018
  14. ^ "I'M Original | Media that Matters". I'M Original | Media that Matters. Retrieved 17 September 2018.
  15. ^ IMDb Chappie movie page. 2015.
  16. ^ Lenora Brown, Ryan (21 February 2017). "The South African Building That Came to Symbolize the Apocalypse". The Atlantic.
  17. ^ "LOVE SUPREME - Lonely Feelings (Official Video)". YouTube.
  18. ^ Ohler, Norman (2002). Stadt des Goldes (in German) (1 April 2002 ed.). Rowohlt Tb. ISBN 3-499-22727-4.- Total pages: 253
  19. ^ Sean O'Hagan, "Tower blocks and tomes dominate the Rencontres d'Arles", The Guardian, 11 July 2011.
  20. ^ "Ponte City Tower - 99% Invisible". 99% Invisible. Retrieved 17 September 2018.
  21. ^ Whitby, Suzanne. "Ponte: Tower of Dreams". Retrieved on 29 September 2018.

External links[edit]