Johannesburg’s Ponte City: ‘the tallest and grandest urban slum in the world’

This is Ponte City. It is located in the Berea suburb of Johannesburg, South Africa. It is a 185-meter-high cylindrical building with 55 stories and Africa’s tallest residential skyscraper.

africa's tallest residential skyscraper ponte city
Jeroen Berghuis
ponte city from a high point
Mysteries of the Abandoned Tv Series by Amazon
ponte city from bird's eye view
lolz Architecture
the inside of ponte city
Jeroen Berghuis

The building was designed by Manfred Hermer and was built in 1975. Hermer’s goal was to provide luxurious housing to the wealthy white of apartheid South Africa.

an old photo of ponte city
ponte city during construction
This obscure desire for beauty

Until the 1990s, the area around Ponte City, Hillbrow, was a place of culture, art, and leisure. However, all changed when the Hillbrow middle class decided to move to the suburbs and leave the city behind.

ponte city
Sandy Nagel

As the building’s intended residents left, a wave of poor immigrants from all over Africa made Ponte City their new home.

an old photo of ponte city's exterior
Leslie Warren Tilley

During the 90s, the skyscraper turned into a dangerous slum of poverty and crime. The stories were filled with guns, drugs, gang members, and prostitutes.

ponte city interior
African Brutalism
ponte city during sunset
Vinay Naran

The government was so hopeless about Ponte City that the officials once thought about turning the building into a prison.

ponte city renovation
Nav Hir Photo by Mikhael Subotzky and Patrick Waterhouse
ponte city interior
Jeroen Berghuis

Originally designed to house 3500 people at maximum, the building reached a resident number of more than 10000. The residents ranged from poor and simple folk to gang leaders and drug lords.

ponte city dark interior
Helene Caux

After some time, Kempston Group bought the building and started to renovate it. In the early 2000s, an eviction company rooted out the brothels, drug abusers, gun sellers, and cleaned out the trash (which included dead bodies). The cleaning has made the building a fine place to live again.

ponte city interior during the day
Dan Handel

Today, the new Ponte City has some new rules. The registered residents have to use fingerprints to gain access to their houses. There are security guards and surveillance cameras that work 24/7. People who are not residents have to leave Ponte City after 9 pm and visitors have to put down their names.

ponte city interior during the night
Jörg Kemminer

Thanks to the renovation, Ponte City, Africa’s tallest residential skyscraper, is again a stable and secure building, both to live and visit.

ponte city up close