Tuesday, 7 May 2013

04.2013 The Carlton Centre - Roof of Africa

Right in the centre of downtown Johannesburg stands Africa’s tallest building, the foreboding 222 metre high Carlton Centre. For 15R (about 1 pound) you can ride the lifts up to the 50th floor to the Roof of Africa viewing level (the ticket office is in the lower part of the shopping centre in the building’s base - just ask someone, it’s not obvious where it is). From way up here on a clear day you can see 30km or more out over the Gauteng area and get a feel for the incredible number of skyscrapers in downtown Joburg, and for the huge size of the indistinct sprawl of green suburbs which spreads out from it. The view of all the lights at night must be incredible, but alas nobody visits downtown after dark and even if they did it wouldn’t be open anyway (closes at 18:00). 

Back in the 1970s this building and the huge (now closed) Carlton hotel next door were the most prestigious in the city, full of imposing gold-rush city wealth and success – and even a sky-high ice-rink of all things. I like how the local writer and novelist Christopher Hope put it;

‘We boasted about the Carlton - it was said to be the greatest concrete erection in the world - another triumph attributed to those razzle-dazzle boys who ran the town…See how the knee bends, the head bows at the magical invocation of true, ingot-dripping, bullion-loaded dazzle.’

Nowadays, the building looks dated and a bit skuzzy at the edges, while the hotel next door is empty and closed. The state monopoly Transnet (which runs all of South Africa’s freight movement), has the Carlton Centre as its HQ, while other floors are occupied by civil servants. Meanwhile in the basement levels a lively mall has sprung up and the occasional tourist like yours truly makes the journey 50 floors up to join a handful of others in gazing out over this strange and intriguing city.

How I got there: We walked to the Carlton Centre from Park Station following the grid system down Rissik Street and then along Commissioner Street. That’s a 25plus minute walk at African pace, but you do get a feel for the irresistible buzz of downtown street life along the way. Alternatively you can also take the lazy slow route and hop on the Rea Vaya bus from in front of Park Station (be aware that buses do not run regularly at weekends).


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