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'HOMELESSNESS & HOPE' - Johannesburg's Ponte City

By : Judith Erasmus

This paper focuses on Ponte City, a high rise residential tower within the inner city of Johannesburg, South Africa - the highest of its kind in the southern hemisphere. This equally visually and socially notorious cylindrical building has since its erection in the 1970's become an icon and simulacrum of Johannesburg city life. It is located on the border of the suburb of Hillbrow, a restless transcendental suburb, known for its well mixed population of locals and migrant non South Africans, especially from other African countries. The inner city suburbs of Hillbrow and surround is furthermore notorious for being overcrowded and dangerous, with crime and xenophobia reaching peak statistics within the country. Famous for its peculiar shape and size, and somehow the epitome of what has and is happening in these areas, are Ponte City. It has become the first point of arrival for thousands of migrants from the rest of Africa and functions as a beehive of tangible and non-tangible systems and myths. Although it primarily provides a big concentration of homes for many, its purpose and influence has always been about something bigger - a reference to visual and structural feat, to social elitism, to African migration, and to urban legend of both horror and delight. The paper investigates the significance of Ponte as built form within this milieu of fear and transition. The building is seen as an urban body that has moved beyond the borders of its physical existence. It is described how it functions and exercises influence in the collective imaginations of its users and spectators. It also looks into how it asserts traditional definition and the significance of volatility in such inner-city environments. Experimental theories of homelessness, concept cities and cities with people as infrastructure are investigated and utilized in order to grasp a new understanding of the building within this unique milieu. Keywords : Homelessness, Ponte, Johannesburg, High Rise Residential, Concept Cities.

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