Ponte City on the left. The tallest apartment block in Africa.

Ponte City is a (173m high) 55 storey skyscraper in Johannesburg South Africa. Completed in 1975 it features a circular central empty core to allow extra light and ventilation.

It started life as an extremely desirable address but as the neighbourhood changed in the 80’s it was taken over by gangs. Throughout the nineties it was a haven for gangs and squatters. Its central light core took on new iconic symbolism, a five storey high pile of trash.

The inner core of this 173-metre high concrete cylinder became a giant rubbish tip piled up as far as the fifth floor. Among the refuse and junk were, so legend has it, the bodies of residents who took a suicidal leap.- ref

Internal core filled with trash.

Then in 2001 a new initiative started to clean it up. Now once again it is a desired address although residents have to hide behind many layers of security like security guards 24/ 7 and biometric fingerprint access. The life of the tower tells helps tell part of the story of the urban history of South Africa, the flee to the suburbs during apartheid and the recent history of gentrification against a still violent and unequal society.

Like the The Tower of David and Kowloon Walled City Ponte City crystallises otherwise unseen social and economic problems and laws into a actual built reality. All these places have been cleared out though the issues they embody are harder to address.

Also like those other vertical slums they have been quite well documented and various people and groups have tried to support their communities and they have been reproduced and reimagined in art. Notably Mikhael Subotzky and Patrick Waterhouse in their project Ponte City

Also Ponte city is featured in the film District 9 and Resident Evil: The Final Chapter and the book Stadt des Goldes by Norman Ohler.

An image from Mikhael Subotzky and Patrick Waterhouse Ponte City where they photographed every window in the Ponte Tower.

September 30, 2023