The South African Building That Came to Symbolize the Apocalypse

The south african building that came to symbolize the apocalypse
Ponte Tower

Built at the center of a buzzy, international neighborhood, Ponte began life as a posh address for white residents in the 1970s. The building’s unusual architecture—its flats all face a gaping open core—lent it a distinct, if eerie, appeal from the outset. But as the fall of apartheid transformed the city center, the building was dragged along with it, morphing into an outsized symbol of the violence and decay that gripped parts of Johannesburg during South Africa’s messy transition to democracy in the 1990s.

By the time I arrived there, Ponte was shorthand in local media and the public imagination for a city transformed—or, depending on who you asked, destroyed—by the warp of history. Now, it seemed that Hollywood had figured out the logical end point of that metaphor. Over the past few years, the building has appeared in several international films (its credits include District 9, Chappie, and a Drake music video, among others), always as a place both desolate and dangerous. But Resident Evil, which opened in late January in the U.S., took it a step further. It picked Ponte up out of downtown Johannesburg, and dropped it down in the middle of a gutted metropolis at the end of human history. The symbolism was hard to miss.

In September 2015, a couple of days before Ponte transformed into Resident Evil’s zombie wasteland, a notice from the management appeared posted on walls around the building.

“DEAR TENANTS OF PONTE CITY,” it read. “THERE ARE PEOPLE SHOOTING A MOVIE IN THE BUILDING SO THERE WILL BE GUN SHOTS THAT YOU WILL HEAR, SO PLEASE JUST KEEP CALM DO NOT PANIC.”

This wasn’t much of a surprise. It was hardly the first time that downtown Johannesburg had caught the attention of filmmakers searching for a city whose landscape could quickly telegraph violence and disarray. This was the same city that The Hulk smashed to pieces in 2015’s Avengers: Age of Ultron, and the same “dystopic irradiated wasteland” that Judge Dredd and his crew chased bad guys through in the comic book cum 2012 action movie Dredd. (That film even centers on a 200-story slum tower with a gaping open center—a clear Ponte remake.) […]

Aline Chahine
Aline is an international licensed architect currently practicing in Canada, she is the reason you are reading this right now, Aline founded the platform back in 2008 shaping the very foundation of Architecture Lab, her exemplary content curation process that defines the online magazine today.
Aline Chahine
Aline Chahine
Aline is an international licensed architect currently practicing in Canada, she is the reason you are reading this right now, Aline founded the platform back in 2008 shaping the very foundation of Architecture Lab, her exemplary content curation process that defines the online magazine today. Highlights Aline founded Architecture Lab in 2008 Lead editor of dan | dailyarchnews since 2019 Founded and Creative Director of DesignRaid Licensed architect with creative sales and marketing experience Experience As full-fledged architect, Aline's background involved a great deal of research that lead to the creation of Architecture Lab as an online database of exemplary design. Her experience snowballed into founding two architecture platforms, Architecture Lab and DesignRaid. Education Aline received USEK’s Master of Architecture in 2004 and BA in English from the University of Toronto
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About Architecture Lab Architecture Lab is a MKR.S Media brand, a website devoted to extraordinary design and aesthetics aiming to promote exceptional aesthetic values and sustainable design in all it's shapes and sizes. Learn more about us and our editorial process and feel free to contact us if you would like to see something in particular on the website, our certified experts will get back to you with the most trustworthy advice as soon as possible. Read all articles by Aline | Follow her on LinkedIn

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