Ponte City Apartments

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Ponte City Apartments
Ponte City Apartments (3464450399).jpg
General information
Status Complete
Type Residential
Location Berea, Johannesburg, South Africa
Coordinates 26°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
Completed 1975
Roof 173 m (567.6 ft)
Technical details
Floor count 55
Design and construction
Architect Designed by Manfred Hermer

Ponte City[1] is a skyscraper in the Berea neighbourhood, just next to Hillbrow, Johannesburg, South Africa. It was built in 1975 to a height of 173 m (567.6 ft), making it the tallest residential skyscraper in Africa. The 55-story 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.[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 was so tall because developers wanted a large number of units but only had limited land to build on.[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 neighbourhood. The core filled with debris five storeys high as the owners left the building to decay.[6] 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.[7]

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 revitalize 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]

In the arts[edit]


  • One of the final shots of the 2009 film District 9 is of the tower.[9]
  • Director Philip Bloom dedicated a documentary film titled Ponte Tower.[10]
  • Ingrid Martens filmed her award winning documentary Africa Shafted: Under one Roof,[11] entirely, over two and a half years, in the Ponte lifts.
  • The skyscraper "Peach Trees" featured in the 2012 South African 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.
  • One of the scenes of the 2015 movie Chappie was shot in this location.[12]
  • A battle scene was filmed inside the tower for the 2016 movie Resident Evil: The Final Chapter.[13]


  • 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".[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", 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.[15]


See also[edit]


  1. ^ Pampalone, Tanya (2009). "The Full Ponte". Maverick. Retrieved 25 August 2014. 
  2. ^ "Ponte City Apartments". Emporis. 2009. Retrieved November 21, 2009. 
  3. ^ a b c d Davie, (November 9, 2007). "Ponte: revival of a Joburg icon". pub. Retrieved November 21, 2009. 
  4. ^ Chipkin, Clive, Johannesburg in Transition, STE Publishers, 2008
  5. ^ Editors note in Housing in Southern Africa, 2006, http://ftp.shf.org.za/hisa_0601.pdf
  6. ^ a b c d e Hanes, Stephanie (February 12, 2008). "Ponte City – a South African landmark – rises again". The Christian Science Monitor. Retrieved November 21, 2009. 
  7. ^ Redmond, Gillian (January 10, 2003). "Johannesburg Landmarks". Randburg Sun. Amethyst.co.za. Retrieved November 21, 2009. 
  8. ^ a b Pampalone, Tania (December 16, 2008). "Ponte project crashes". Mail & Guardian Online. Retrieved November 21, 2009. 
  9. ^ Sailer, Steve (2009-08-21). "Neill Blomkamp's Giant Apartheid Metaphor". iSteve.com. Retrieved 2009-08-23. 
  10. ^ http://vimeo.com/51295174
  11. ^ http://www.africashafted.com/
  12. ^ IMDb Chappie movie page. 2015.
  13. ^ Lenora Brown, Ryan (February 21, 2017). "The South African Building That Came to Symbolize the Apocalypse". The Atlantic. 
  14. ^ Ohler, Norman. Stadt des Goldes (in German) (April 1, 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.
  16. ^ Ponte City Tower

External links[edit]