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Age Of The African Skyscraper Is Here – Race To Be Top In The Continent Heats Up


AFRICANGLOBE – Africa’s current tallest building, the Carlton Centre in Johannesburg, was built over 40 years ago – but it could soon lose the title.

The Council on Tall Buildings and Urban Habitat has determined that 106 buildings of 200m height or greater were completed around the world in 2015 – setting a new record for annual tall building completions.

The tallest building to complete in 2015 was Shanghai Tower, now the tallest building in China and the second-tallest in the world at 632m.

Despite capital intensive infrastructure development progressing fast on the continent, there was no mention of an African skyscraper in the ranking – but this doesn’t mean the continent isn’t moving upwards.Age Of The African Skyscraper Is Here – Race To Be Top In The Continent Heats Up

Over the last 15 years, African economies have enjoyed growth above the global average and it is estimated that in 2016, the African population will reach 1,069 billion people, the majority under 30. Africa also has the highest rates of urbanisation – the share of Africans living in urban areas is projected to grow from 36% in 2010 to 50% by 2030 – all of whom will be looking for places to live and work.

Most of Africa’s urbanisation is yet to come, along with the skyscrapers. Initially, only a small number of major financial and commercial centres boasted tall skylines – in fact, Africa’s tallest building currently was built over 40 years ago! Completed in 1973, at 222m the Carlton Centre building in Johannesburg, South Africa, is still the tallest on the continent.

However, since the 2000s, skyscrapers have been constructed in many other African cities, including Cairo, Maputo, Abuja, Kampala, Cape Town, Durban, Addis Ababa, Dar es Salaam and Luanda. Evidence of what is to come.

Coming Soon…

Considering that Africa’s tallest building hasn’t changed in over 40 years, the title of “Africa’s tallest building” is the lowest-hanging fruit in the architecture world and governments, companies and architects across the continent are eyeing the prize.

As a result, several buildings, all touted to become Africa’s “tallest building” are in the pipeline.

Age Of The African Skyscraper Is Here – Race To Be Top In The Continent Heats Up
The proposed Al-Noor Tower

Last year construction began on a 540m high skyscraper in Casablanca, Morocco. The 114-storey tower is expected to cost $1 billion to build, contain a hotel, business centre and a shopping centre and is due for completion in 2018.

Age Of The African Skyscraper Is Here – Race To Be Top In The Continent Heats Up

In 2013 Ghana launched one of the continent’s most ambitious development projects – the $10billion “Hope City” located in Donkonaa, a suburb located just 30 minutes away from Accra. Poised to be a leading African tech city, it would be comprised of a cluster of six towers, one of which would have 75 levels and stand at 270m high.

Ethiopia To House East Africa’s Tallest Building
The future home of The Commercial Bank of Ethiopia

This month the Commercial Bank of Ethiopia launched the construction of its new headquarters, poised to become the tallest building in East Africa. The future CBE head office, has a main tower which will be 198m tall with 46 stories and a 4 storey basement, expected to be completed within the next 3 years at a cost of $270m.

The Centurion Symbio-City project would create South Africa's tallest building
The Centurion Symbio-City project would create South Africa’s tallest building

Symbio-City is a proposed skyscraper business park in Centurion, Gauteng, South Africa. At 447m will  be a contender for the tallest building in Africa title, if built. Plans consist of three buildings, the largest built over Centurion lake.

Ghost Buildings?

But beyond bragging rights are the very real fears that these, and other status symbols, are going to become the next generation of urban fantasies since buildings such as this are ill-designed for the African market.  For the buildings that haven’t got a clear client or purpose, this could very well be the case.

Firstly, there is the argument that claims of very rapid African urbanisation may be overstated and rates may be higher in smaller towns than in the largest and capital cities. Despite these indications, it is the largest cities that are attracting most property development interest.

Secondly, agencies such as Deloitte have pointed out that while Africa’s middle class is growing – providing potential customers for the kinds of urban buildings portrayed in the fantasy plans – the African Development Bank defines middle class as those spending $2–20 a day, and even the “upper middle class” as $ 10–20 a day spenders. So it is difficult to imagine how households with such minimal spending power companies that would rent these new grandiose spaces.

A Cautionary Tale

The market may have been misread.

Indeed Vanessa Watson, a professor of City Planning from the University of Cape Town, noted that the majority of Africa’s urban populations live in deep poverty and with minimal urban services, and the most likely outcome of these fantasy plans is a steady worsening of the marginalisation and inequalities that already beset these cities.

That even if these plans go ahead, they’re also bulldozing over the reality of urban Africa in that many of the urban populations live on settlements that are on well-located urban land that is also attractive to property developers.

Attempts to implement these fantasy plans within existing cities will (and is already) having major exclusionary effects on vulnerable low-income groups through evictions and relocations.

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