South Africa’s tallest structures and buildings


There are 54 skyscrapers in South Africa that are more than 100m high, according to the Skyscraper Center global database. Of these, four are taller than 150m and one is over 200m. Most are in Johannesburg, but some feature in the skylines of Durban and Cape Town.

As South Africa develops its economic status and infrastructure into the 21st century, more skyscrapers are being planned or are already under construction, all set to rival and eclipse these existing buildings in sky-scraping glory.

But while these buildings are high, they are still not the highest man-made structures in South Africa.

South Africa’s highest structures

Various power station smokestacks around the country rank as the top nine highest structures in South Africa, ranging from 275m (the Lethabo, Matla and Kendal power stations) to 301m (the Sasol synthetic fuel plant in Secunda, Mpumalanga).

Johannesburg’s iconic Hillbrow Tower, now known as Telkom Tower, is the 10th highest structure – but the highest urban structure – at 269m.

Assorted television transmission masts around the county also dwarf the country’s highest building, at 265m each.

The 10 highest buildings in South Africa

Carlton Centre in downtown Johannesburg, built in 1973, is currently the highest building in the country, as well as the highest in Africa. At 222.5m, the Carlton is a 50-floor, 75.355m2 business district, hotel and shopping centre. The building is owned by Transnet and houses its head office. The top floor is known as the Top of Africa, and offers an unrivalled view of the City of Gold.

Another of Johannesburg’s instantly recognisable buildings is the country’s second highest. Ponte City is the tallest residential skyscraper in Africa at 172.8m.

Built in 1975, its 55 floors have featured as backdrops for films such as District 9, Chappie and Dredd. A number of documentaries have also been made about its history and colourful residents.

German writer Norman Ohler described the building aptly in his book City of Gold when he wrote: “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.”

Marble Towers, previously called Sanlam Centre, also in Johannesburg, is the third highest building in South Africa at just over 152m. It pips the Pearl Dawn building in Umhlanga, Durban/eThekwini by just one centimetre. Marble Towers is constructed from marble and concrete and boasts the largest electronic advertising board on its façade. The building is used for office space, and has an eight-storey parking garage.

Pearl Dawn is one of the country’s newest skyscrapers, completed in 2008, with 152m of 31 floors for permanent and holiday residential property. It is part of the greater Umhlanga tourism development project. A second phase of the project, scheduled to be completed by 2017/18, is expected to add an additional building – Pearl Sky – reaching more than 180 metres into the air.

Foreboding as a dark, monolithic presence on the skyline of the Pretoria/Tshwane CBD, the Reserve Bank building is the fifth highest in the country at 148m. It houses South Africa’s central monetary authority. It was built in 1988.

88 on Field (formerly called Southern Life) was Durban’s highest structure between 1986 and 2008, at 146.5m. Situated in the heart of the city’s business district, the building is home to the offices of various international businesses and a popular shopping centre. It features glass shuttle elevators, offering views of the city and Indian Ocean.

While the 140m Kwadukuza Egoli Hotel Tower 1 (formerly Johannesburg Sun and Towers Hotel) has had a chequered history, from being a five-star hotel during its 1980s heyday to a police personnel housing complex in the early 2000s, there are plans to rejuvenate the building’s 40 floors as commercial and residential real estate.

As one of the most sought-after addresses in Johannesburg, the luxurious Michelangelo Towers in Sandton, also offers the one of the best views in the city.

Completed in 2005, the 140m Michelangelo is now a ubiquitous part of the city skyline. It is part of the Sandton retail, hotel and conferencing district, which includes Nelson Mandela Square, Sandton City and the Sandton Conference Centre. An apartment in the Michelangelo can cost up to R28-million.

Both Absa Building and Trust Bank Centre, in the Johannesburg CBD close to the old Johannesburg Stock Exchange, are 140m high and house various corporate headquarters for local and international banking institutions and other financial companies. Trust Bank Centre, built in 1970, houses one of the largest bank vaults in South Africa.

The tallest building in Cape Town is Portside, at 139m. Completed in 2014, the only public stipulations for its completion were that it not obscure the view of Table Mountain and that it have a low energy footprint. The completed building earned a five-star Green Star rating from the Green Building Council of South Africa.

The future of South African skyscrapers

A number of proposed or currently under construction buildings are set to take skyscrapers higher in South Africa, while significantly changing the skylines of its major cities. These include:

The Leonardo, a 42-floor, 223m luxury residential building in Sandton, Johannesburg, is scheduled to be completed by 2018, and become, give or take a few centimetres, the highest building in the city.

By 2021, eThekwini hopes that the proposed 370m, R6-billion Iconic Tower will be the southern hemisphere’s tallest skyscraper. The building is expected to “serve as a potential catalyst to future large-scale development within the Durban inner city, and the greater metropolitan area”, according to its developers.

The proposed Kgoro Gateway commercial property development in Sandton, due to be completed by 2030, hopes to sport twin skyscrapers reaching higher than 165m each.

Source: Business Tech reporter

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