"Ponte has come to symbolise the rise and fall and rise again of South Africa’s commercial capital. It is part of an inner-city renaissance in recent years that has seen previous no-go areas turned into gourmet food markets, artists’ studios and trendy apartments" David Smith
This building in South Africa is well known to all in the professional field of architectural and design by now, with media coverage from The Guardian newspaper to Wallpaper Magazine. Designed by Mannie Feldman / Rodney Grosskopf it was the first cylindrical skyscraper in Africa, a fantastic and innovative sky scraper which became famous for its brutal subculture of gangs and urban decay. The building was seen to reflect, in particular, the countries turmoil and chaos after the apartheid in the 1990s.
In 2007 the building was bought and re-designed with a 'typical type plan' to revitalise the building. Luckily [in my opinion] the banks withdrew their funding before the project was completed and could advertises itself as a 'desirable residential destination'.
This was but a rest-bit - The building was to follow-suite, suffering from prosaic efforts to become designer-like and western, with a promise of malls, gyms and easy parking. Was there have been an alternative plan, creating home for a social and cultural mixture of lower middle and upper classes, living together in a fabulous building with memories of conflict and discrimination embedded within its massive concrete self?
I plan reminding the inhabitants and the city of their not so distant difficulties - where had the memories gone in the designers haste to redevelop the building - I guess in a few years they may have an exhibition on the public concourse, telling of the building's sad story or redevelopment.... a depressing thought but quite possible...but seriously, what a missed opportunity to acknowledge the building's history and character, both physical and emotionally within a re-design solution...
In 2009-2010 Mikhael Subotzky re-tells the drama of the building and its migrant gold workers, gangs and persecution but also, revealing, in my opinion an undercurrent of hope, faith and innovation in his photography. An impressive visual documentation of 'Ponte' its life and space.
"Ponte has always been a place of myth, illusion and aspiration. This is what we seek to evoke in these preparatory pages. Perhaps this task is best left to the images that we have found there – both in the abandoned flats, and in the marketing material and advertising that we have collected from 1976 and 2008"