A Height Above The Rest in Africa…

Federico Garcia Lorca once said ‘There is nothing more poetic and terrible than the skyscraper’s battle with the heavens that cover them’. It thus appears that man’s constant and consistent thirst to aid the ‘metal monster’ is certain to blot out the sky from the ground.

A show of might, in days long past, would have been wars fought on battlegrounds; with mighty displays of ammunition and combat tactics. But, in the world of today, supremacy is firmly stamped with rather convincing showcases of economic might and ideology.

The artificial rooftop of the globe, at first, may have been the famed pyramids on the Egyptian deserts, but this scope was swiftly replaced with both religiously and politically significant structures, such as churches and monuments.

The Washington monument for instance, cemented America’s significance to the world, towering over all other nations since its completion, for well close to a century before the European cathedrals, with their gothic and romanesque architecture, took the mantle of height.

Through the decades, the world’s superpowers, or those countries that sought their podium in the global arena, designed towers which subsequently matched their international position. North America, for instance, had a firm grip on Planet Earth, with her skyscrapers which majestically rose out of her prominent cities: Washington, Chicago and New York. To this day, and well into the future if predictions are anything to go by, the citizens of these bastions of glory, will delight in being residents of the world’s greatest cities.

The ‘Heavens’ on Earth

The roll of honour for the tallest structure on Earth, goes to the hungriest city of them all, Dubai, with its over 2700 foot Burj Khalifa, which convincingly towers over the rest of the globe from deep within the United Arab Emirates deserts. Here’s the video to prove it:

It’s dizzying to even mention this, but the Royal family of Saudi Arabia in the Middle East, have approved construction of an EVEN TALLER building than the Burj Khalifa, in Jeddah called the Kingdom Tower. Initially designed to stand at a height of about 1.6 kilometers into the sky, it was scaled down to 1000 meters, majorly because the geography of the area would not allow the unrealistic height.

The Kindom Tower (left) in Comparison to other projects and the Burj Khalifa (right)

The ‘King’ of the African Skies

It is then apparent, by silent consensus, that the greatest countries on continents across the globe, are also home to the very tallest.

In Europe for example, the British capital, London, now boasts the Shard building, elevated to a grand height of over 1,000 feet: it is the tallest of them all on the continent. Designed by Architect Renzo Piano, the marvel was opened well before this leading global city hosted the 2012 Summer Olympics, the greatest spectator sport on earth.

Towering above them all in Asia is the 1,667 ft Taipei 101 tower in Taiwan, though South Korean is fervently working on completing what is set to become the continent’s tallest  building, the Lotte Super Tower 123 (I have no idea what the obsession with numbers is) which should be opened in 2014.

Designed by Kohn Pedderson Fox, the tower will comprise a hotel, shops, apartments and offices, not only being owned by those who commissioned it be built, the Lotte Group, but also signifying South Korea’s aggressive economy and its desire to be marked as one of the leading nations on Earth.

The Carlton Centre, Johannesburg. Currently the Tallest building on the African continent

The King of Africa’s skies is, rather predictably, located in the capital city of the continent’s leading economy, South Africa, but it doesn’t even make it to the list of top 100 tallest buildings on the globe (shy of about 50 metres even).

The Carlton Center in downtown Johannesburg stands at 732 feet but is poised to surrender its title to an ambitious project dubbed Centurion Symbio-City which is underway in the country’s administrative capital Tshwane (formerly Pretoria).

Centurion Symbio – City

If and when complete, Centurion will enter the league of the top 20 tallest on Earth, standing at a whopping 110 stories which is just ahead of the Willis Tower in Chicago, Illinois US but shy of the Petronas Towers in the Malaysian Capital, Kuala Lumpur.

East Africa’s Tallest Mammoth

The New Central Bank Tower (also known as Times Tower) happens to be the tallest structure in Eastern and Central Africa and is served by 10 elevators, comprising a 38-storey office tower, a 7-storey banking complex and an 11-split storey car park. The estimated total area covered is 60,000m2, all in reinforced concrete construction. This iconic building at the heart of the region’s financial and communication hub was designed by Architect James Njuguna Gitoho of Triad Architects for the Central Bank of Kenya and was completed in May 2000.

The building was designed to resist earthquakes and to repel all forms of forced entry into it’s main vaults, which of course was important to the Central Bank of Kenya, which commissioned its construction. Foundations for this mammon comprise 2 deep basements sitting on a reinforced concrete raft varying in thickness from 0.9m to 3.0m.

A key feature of the design, according to Times Tower’s structural engineers Howard Humphreys (K) Ltd, was to assess the seismicity of the area and to generate loading data to enable a computerized time-history analysis. This resulted in a safe yet economical seismic design that bore the Kenyan landmark.

Times Tower

Interesting to note is that Times Tower would not hold this prestigious title had plans by the Moi regime bore fruit in 1989 to construct the continent’s then tallest structure, a 60-storey headquarters at the heart of Uhuru Park to house the Kenya Times newspaper. This was in addition to KANU’s KICC, which at 28 storeys high, was the tallest structure in the region at the time.

This was an ill-timed and ill-placed project by all means, as Kenya was ‘enjoying’ and annual economic decline of -0.9% between the years 1980 – 1989. British architects had already designed the blueprints for the tower which would be built of concrete and sheathed in imported glass, aluminum and steel. It would have definitely put the ‘Green City in the Sun’ on the world map for at least a decade to come. All this would have cost the tax payer in excess of $200 million (adjustments over time on the currency changes apply on top of this).

The One Nairobi

There had been speculation from 2010 to 2011 about the British-owned international development company, Dubai-based the First Group, working on Africa’s tallest building, the One Nairobi, which would have stood at over 70 stories high (though the Centurion has far overshadowed this), but plans are believed to have been shelved, at least for time being, as investors are approached.

The One Nairobi would have been located in the Upper Hill area of Kenya’s capital and and undoubtedly boosted the country’s profile. The First Group are working on the One Kempinski Abuja which is meant to be ‘the epitome of high end living’ in Nigeria’s brand new capital city.

The Skies Ahead

It is therefore pertinent for Africa’s lions to literally RISE up to the occasion of vertical splendour in the race for the tip of the horizon. While struggling for economical advancement is critical to any country’s future, displaying this new-found status could also be instrumental to self-assertion and progress.

Though with the relatively tiny nation of Qatar planning to complete at least 300 new skyscrapers by the time it hosts the 2022 FIFA World Cup, where does that leave the African continent in the race?

Interesting to Note

Yemen had its very own ‘skyscraper city’ in the 2nd Century. Known as Shibam, each of the buildings were built from mud and rose on average to a height of about 8 stories each, mainly to protect the citizens from the desert raiders.

The Yemen ‘Skyscraper City’ of Shibam

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