The race to the sky in Africa is on
INTERNATIONAL - What do Algeria, Ivory Coast and Egypt have in common? The three countries in west and northern Africa are all vying to host the continent’s tallest building.
Africa got a new holder of the prestigious title in 2019 when the Great Mosque of Algiers was completed, according to the Council on Tall Buildings and Urban Habitat. Measuring 265 meters (869 feet), the structure holds occupiable floors along more than half of its height to meet the Chicago-based CTBUH’s definition of a building.
It pips The Leonardo in Johannesburg’s upmarket Sandton neighborhood, a 228-meter skyscraper within walking distance of the Johannesburg Stock Exchange. Also completed in 2019, by South Africa’s Legacy Group and Nedbank Group Ltd., the building houses apartments, office space as well as shops and restaurants.
In West Africa, another contender for Africa’s highest is the F tower, set to be built in Ivory Coast’s commercial capital of Abidjan. Construction is yet to get underway, but PFO Africa, a firm owned by Lebanese-Ivorian architect Pierre Fakhoury, has already tipped it as the tallest on the continent, peaking at 283 meters when built.
F tower is set to be “an architectural feat, with a symmetrical geometry, like an African mask,” PFO says on its website.
Fakhoury is no stranger to superlatives, having designed the world’s largest church, the Basilica of Our Lady of Peace of Yamoussoukro, in the hometown of former Ivorian president Felix Houphouet Boigny. F tower will be used for government services and offices, according to PFO’s website.
Yet, it may still be outdone by the Iconic Tower that is currently under construction in Cairo. The office tower is being built by China State Construction Engineering Corp. and is due to be completed in 2023, according to information on the CTBUH’s website.
Africa has been late to the tall-building party, with Asian and Middle East countries having nine of the 10 highest skyscrapers -- all built in the last decade. Even when or if the Iconic Tower is constructed, it will still be less than half the height of the world leader -- the Burj Khalifa in Dubai. The Eiffel Tower in Paris, completed more than 130 years ago in 1889, is 324 metres tall at its tip.
“After 9/11, everybody briefly thought we’d seen the end of skyscrapers and it’s actually just the opposite,” Eitan Karol, chief executive officer of Louis Karol Architects, said by phone from Cape Town. “People naturally like tall buildings because it’s an important symbol and it gives the city something,” he said.
The Carlton Center in downtown Johannesburg had held the title of Africa’s tallest building since the late 1960s, when it was built by Anglo American Properties for about 88 million rand ($6 million), until last year’s opening of the Great Mosque of Algiers and The Leonardo, as made official by the CTBUH.
“The race to get the tallest building in your city is symbolic,” said Philippa Tumubwainee, head of the department of architecture and planning at the University of Cape Town.
“Tall buildings need relatively complex engineering, innovative thinking, some kind of forward-thinking structural system because you’ve got to get people and material up,” she said. “You have to have the skills, you have to have the labor, you have to have the money. It’s an expensive exercise.”