Ponte City

Coordinates: 26°11′26″S 28°3′25.5″E / 26.19056°S 28.057083°E / -26.19056; 28.057083
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Ponte City Apartments
General information
LocationBerea, Johannesburg, South Africa
Coordinates26°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
Architect(s)Designed 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 location and views over Johannesburg, but it became infamous for its crime and poor maintenance in the late 1980s to 1990s. It has since been refurbished into a safe property. The neon sign on top of the building is the largest sign in the Southern Hemisphere. It currently went under changes in 2023 rebranding it to VodaPay, a digital wallet system which is meant to make payments and money sharing easier. Before it though, it was covered by South African Network Vodacom from (2000- 2023).[2] Prior to 2000, it advertised for The Coca-Cola Company.[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).[2]


During the late 1980s, gang activity had caused the crime rate to soar at the tower and the surrounding neighbourhood.[2] 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]

There were proposals in the mid-1990s to turn the building into a highrise prison.[2]

New Ponte[edit]

Ponte City (second tallest building in picture) 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.[8] 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.[8]

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.[9]

In popular culture[edit]

One of the final shots of the 2009 film District 9 features the tower.[10] Director Philip Bloom dedicated a documentary film titled Ponte Tower.[11] Ingrid Martens filmed the documentary Africa Shafted: Under one Roof, entirely, over two and a half years, in the Ponte lifts.[12] A battle scene was filmed inside the tower for the 2016 movie Resident Evil: The Final Chapter.[13]n

German writer Norman Ohler used the Ponte as the setting for his book Stadt des Goldes ("City of Gold"), saying "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".[14] 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".[15]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Pampalone, Tanya (2009). "The Full Ponte". Maverick. Archived from the original on 26 March 2015. Retrieved 25 August 2014.
  2. ^ 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.
  3. ^ "Ponte City Apartments". Emporis. 2009. Retrieved 21 November 2009.[dead link]
  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 Pampalone, Tania (16 December 2008). "Ponte project crashes". Mail & Guardian Online. Retrieved 21 November 2009.
  9. ^ 'The building creaks and sways': life in a skyscraper
  10. ^ Sailer, Steve (21 August 2009). "Neill Blomkamp's Giant Apartheid Metaphor". iSteve.com. Retrieved 23 August 2009.
  11. ^ Bloom, Philip (12 October 2012), Ponte Tower, retrieved 17 September 2018
  12. ^ "I'M Original | Media that Matters". I'M Original | Media that Matters. Retrieved 17 September 2018.
  13. ^ Lenora Brown, Ryan (21 February 2017). "The South African Building That Came to Symbolize the Apocalypse". The Atlantic.
  14. ^ Ohler, Norman (2002). Stadt des Goldes (in German) (1 April 2002 ed.). Rowohlt Tb. ISBN 3-499-22727-4.- Total pages: 253
  15. ^ Sean O'Hagan, "Tower blocks and tomes dominate the Rencontres d'Arles", The Guardian, 11 July 2011.

External links[edit]

Preceded by Tallest residential building in Africa
173 m (567.5 ft)

1975 – present
Preceded by Building in Africa with the most floors

1975 – 2019
Succeeded by