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Buildings like Ponte City Tower in Johannesburg, South Africa is why I harp so much on architecture.

I mean look at this nightmare:

(All photos (c) Dimitar Karanikolov)

Imagine living in this thing. There were plans to convert it into a prison. Honestly, it wouldn’t take much.

Built in 1975, the cylindrical skyscraper was intended to be a prime location in what, at the time, was an up-and-coming area of the nation’s largest urban centre.

But a steep rise in crime in the 1990s saw gangs move in, turning Ponte City into a ‘vertical slum’.

I can’t believe I don’t remember seeing this thing during my trip to Johannesburg in 2015.

I can understand the reasoning behind it’s design decision . . .

The principal designer of Ponte was Mannie Feldman, working in a team together with Manfred Hermer and Rodney Grosskopf. Grosskopff recalled the decision to make the building circular, the first cylindrical skyscraper in Africa. 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. 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. The building was so tall because developers wanted a large number of units but only had limited land to build on.

. . . but my goodness, what a bleak, bleary, drab, and beige execution.

People: Concrete is not attractive. I get that it’s probably cheap and easy to use. But no one wants to live in a concrete shell. No one prefers concrete to wood or brick.

Humanity isn’t meant to live in chunks of concrete.

Yet our schools and office buildings and retail shops and municipal buildings all have this distinctly prison-like aesthetic. Very Stalin-esque. It makes a guy wonder . .

We are, in part, products of our environment. Aesthetics matter. It’s not always about cheap and easy and packing them in. But I guess when you don’t care about the human soul these things aren’t taken into consideration.


  1. I actually *like* Brutalist architecture, not to dwell in, but to look at, on a quick visit or in photographs, to be awed be the inhumanity of it. I enjoy that, rather like I enjoy an H.P. Lovecraft story.

    But when I saw photos of Ponte City Tower, I was bowled over by the thought, “That is Hell.”

    Liked by 1 person

    • Hi Camilla thanks for the comment!

      Interesting you say you like to look at brutalist buildings but wouldn’t live in them. I like the Lovecraft analogy because brutalist buildings sure look fit for ancient horrors to me!

      And yeah, Ponte City Tower looks designed to be in a dystopian future. Or present.


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