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A Haunting Look at the Decay of Africa's Tallest High-Rise

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When the Ponte City apartment complex was finished in 1975, the apparent success of its cylindrical design ensured that Africa's tallest residential skyscraper was one of the most desirable places to live in Johannesburg. The hollow center that allowed light to enter the inward-facing units—some of which were three stories tall and came Jacuzzi-equipped—was once the planned site of an indoor ski slope, that urban marker of bull-market excess. Today, after nearly four decades of decline, the bottom of Ponte City's lightwell is covered by a three-story heap of garbage. The long suburban exodus of Johannesburg's moneyed elite has turned the tower into a skyline-piercing reminder that cosmopolitan luxury doesn't exist inside a vacuum.

But despite all the gloom, and the awful grandeur of that trash heap—the focus of a short, visually stunning documentary on Ponte City by Philip Bloom (below)—things are surprisingly positive. Renovations began just before the global financial crisis of 2007 and then were quickly abandoned, and though the tower is home to a lot of poverty, its conditions have been brought up to a kind of liminal state that some might consider more desirable than reigning bourgeoisie excess—politics dependent, of course. And considering that there once existed plans to turn the place into a huge vertical prison, like the setting for another dystopian South African death-fest from director Neill Blomkamp, Ponte City has certainly been worse off. Go, watch:

· Dark Tower: Decay Inside Africa's Tallest Apartment Complex [Web Urbanist]