Looking up: constructing new perspectives for urban Africa

Since the dawn of the new millennium, the continent of Africa has posted above-average economic growth, as well as continuing high rates of urbanization. It is estimated that half of Africa’s people will live in cities or towns by 2030.

Famous for many things and notable in countless ways, Africa is nonetheless not well known for its high-rise buildings. For example, Africa’s cities do not yet boast any of the world’s 100 tallest buildings. In fact, they don’t have very many tall buildings at all. But this may be changing very soon.

Smart inside and out – In many ways, the smart city concept is simply good urban planning that incorporates both advances in digital technology and new thinking in the age-old city concepts of relationships, community, environmental sustainability, participatory democracy, good governance and transparency.

Published on 31.01.2017

The tallest buildings in Africa today

At one time the tallest building in the entire Southern hemisphere, the Carlton Centre retains the title of tallest building in Africa. Rising 223 meters (732 feet), the building is crowned with a popular observation deck offering majestic panoramic views. Built in 1973, this 50-floor Johannesburg (South Africa) landmark combines office space with a large shopping mall.

South Africa boasts several of the tallest buildings in Africa, including the 173-meter Ponte City Apartments in Johannesburg. But the rest of the ten tallest reflect the continent’s diversity: the 210-meter minaret – the tallest in the world – of the Hassan II Mosque in Casablanca (Morocco), the 173-meter Bahia Center in Oran (Algeria), the 160-meter NECOM House office building in Lagos (Nigeria), and the 153-meter PSPF Commercial Twin Towers in Dar es Salaam (Tanzania).

The tallest minaret in the world is in Casablanca, Africa
The Pinnacle Towers in Nairobi are part of a trend

Nairobi takes it to the next level

Also included in the top ten is the 163-meter UAP Old Mutual Tower in Nairobi. Opened in 2016, it is currently Kenya’s tallest building ¬– but not for long. Due to be completed in 2020, the Pinnacle Towers complex will include Africa’s first supertall building (i.e. 300-meter/984 feet or higher), giving Nairobi two of the three tallest buildings in Africa.

This is simply the tip of the iceberg: Nairobi is rapidly becoming Africa’s top city for high-rise construction. Current skyscraper construction there accounts for nearly 25% of all high-rises being built in Africa at the moment. Why? The Kenyan economy continues to show solid economic growth – the World Bank predicts 6% in 2017 – and, combined with rising land prices in Nairobi, both the means and the incentive are there to keep building – up.

Continental drift – upwards

But Nairobi is not alone. All across the continent, ambitious projects are underway. Hope City, near Accra (Ghana) is an architecturally stunning, USD 10-billion high-tech tower cluster aimed at making Ghana a go-to destination for the information and communication technology (ICT) industry. The highest tower there is planned to be 270-meter (886 feet).

Meanwhile, the Al Noor Tower in Casablanca is designed to represent the 54 countries of Africa by measuring exactly 540 meters (1,800 feet) with expected completion in 2018. And in Addis Ababa, the Commercial Bank of Ethiopia has launched the construction of its new 198-meter headquarters. South Africa is still in the game, as well. If built, Centurion Symbio-City will soar to a height more than double that of the Carlton Centre – 447 meters (1467 feet) – and feature a rooftop garden and embedded wind turbines.

Questions linger, but Africa is definitely on the rise

The list of planned high-rises in Africa continues to grow. But all of these plans also raise questions: have investors misread the market, and are these what urban Africa really needs at this time? Of course, these same questions could be asked of virtually any city, anywhere in the world, not just Africa. For one thing is for certain: Africa will not be kept down. Urban Africa – like urban areas elsewhere – is ready and willing to play its role. Its expectations are high: Africa is on the rise.