JOHANNESBURG – Johannesburg’s main financial district welcomes the Leonardo, a 234 meter tall skyscraper that is to become the tallest building in Africa.
This South African version of Empire State, world-famous New York building, sends a message of confidence in the country’s future.
The Leonardo, which consists of 56 luxurious floors, is built in the heart of the Sandton suburb in the Johannesburg Municipality, Gauteng.
The building will contain a mixture of apartments, offices, original artworks on the walls, a five-star hotel and even a nursery and a food store.
The exterior of the building was made by thin sheets of Dekton, a synthetic material manufactured in Spain.
“We were humble, we started with 33 floors and we said ‘let the market tell us’, and the market liked it,” Bart Dorrestein, president of the project’s promoter Legacy group, told EFE.
It all started in 2015, for the construction of a parking lot and a podium on the foundations of another project that had failed.
“If you started saying 55 story building it would have never got off the ground because no funding agency in Africa would fund a project of that value,” Patrick McInerney, director of Co-Arc International Architects, the South African company in charge of the project, told EFE.
“But if you have taken the project and turn it into small bites and you sell the first bit, then you can persuade that funding agency to take the next piece of risk, and the next piece of risk, and the next piece of risk... until you get to the top.”
The Leonardo cost about three billion rands (about $200 million) and is expected to open its doors before the end of 2019.
The skyscraper’s 234-meter height beats Johannesburg’s previous record holder, the Carlton Centre, by 11 meters.
That title, however, probably will not last long.
There are already at least two projects, one in Kenya and another in Morocco, that plan on exceeding that height.
“We wanted to build the greatest and the most inspirational building of its time, and that’s what we are hoping we’ve achieved: to be inspirational and a great building,” Dorrestein added.
“The Empire State Building is a great building as is the Chrysler building, as is the Rockefeller Center, all in their time were great buildings.”
“So somebody sometime will possibly build a taller building somewhere in Africa (...) if they do, so be it, our building is there, it’s a statement and we think it’s unique and we have done our best, it’s all I can say.”
The Leonardo has been completed in a difficult time in terms of the continent’s economy; something that spark hope for the future.
“The people who have been involved in this project believe in the future of South Africa, and they wanted to be a beacon of hope for better days to come in South Africa,” Dorrestein stressed.
Both the Carlton Center and the Leonardo, separated by about 15 kilometers, define two different moments in the history of South Africa.
The Carlton Center was the financial center of the city during the times of racial segregation.
Meanwhile, the Leonardo is being built in times of democracy by a team consisting mostly of women.
In addition, Leonardo’s commitment to apartments in an area generally dedicated to business is a challenge to the model of large residential suburbs that dominates South Africa.
The mindset of South Africans, however, is slowly changing and there is already a small market for young urban professionals, who prefer apartments in large buildings.
“There is no question that it’s changing and that the centers are densifying and living in a big house in the suburbs is gonna become more of the unusual than the norm,” McInerney underscored.