The Leonardo Picture: FREDDY MAVUNDA
The Leonardo Picture: FREDDY MAVUNDA

Africa’s tallest building is set to open next month as its developers seek to cash in on security fears and traffic jams by building a high-rise residential and retail complex in the heart of Sandton’s CBD.

The Leonardo is a 234m skyscraper within walking distance of the JSE, the headquarters of some of Africa’s and SA’s biggest companies and Sandton City. Developed by Legacy Group and Nedbank, it will house 254 apartments, a three-floor penthouse, and five floors of office space as well as shops, restaurants, a gym and a herb garden.

While Joburg’s run-down city centre is notorious for its high crime rate, the relatively safe Sandton has undergone massive change in recent years to become a showcase for ultramodern high-rises and glass-fronted office structures.

Developers are now increasingly looking to build residential space in the area, marking a shift from the more common living arrangements in SA. Johannesburg’s affluent typically live in large, free-standing houses with rolling gardens and swimming pools behind walls with electric fences.

Still, with in-house restaurants, a Montessori pre-school and room service, the Leonardo is likely to be more luxurious than most residential buildings in Sandton.

“These things tend to be islands in quite a big market so they tend to be successful,” said Peet Strauss, Johannesburg developments sales manager at Pam Golding Properties. “At the top end, we are dependent on purchases from north of our border — buyers from elsewhere in Africa who have children in university” for instance.

The R3bn building is the latest development by Legacy, which operates 23 hotels and luxury residential complexes across Africa. Its properties range from the Michelangelo Hotel in Sandton to Hôtel Le Cristal in Gabon and Labadi Beach Hotel in Ghana.

Adrian Landry, GM of the Leonardo, declined to give a price for an apartment or to disclose how many have been sold. At the nearby Embassy Towers, a 12-floor development, two-bedroom apartments start at R7.2m. Landry did say that the penthouse, which will be custom-designed by the eventual owner and have space for six bedrooms, has attracted interest from both local and West African buyers.

On a clear day, it’s possible to see airplanes taking off from OR Tambo International Airport 30km away, as well as the Magaliesberg mountain range.

More than half the apartments are available on a buy-to-rent basis, with the building also serving as a hotel with one-bedroom apartments costing R7,250 a night or R54,000 a month — more than 15 times the average monthly wage of a low-skilled worker.

Designed by Johannesburg’s Co-Arc International Architects, the Leonardo supersedes the Carlton Centre as the tallest building on the continent. The 222m Carlton Centre in the city centre opened in 1972 as a hotel owned by Anglo American and now serves as the headquarters of Transnet.

Of Africa’s 10 tallest buildings, four are in Johannesburg, three in Dar es Salaam, two in Nairobi and one in Lagos. Construction of the 314m Pinnacle Tower in Nairobi has stalled.

Bloomberg