Back to Africa Check

Tallest building in Africa? SA’s Leonardo pulls the trigger too soon

This article is more than 4 years old

Media reports have recently hailed the opulent Leonardo tower in Johannesburg’s Sandton district as the new tallest building in Africa.

The skyscraper is a project of the pan-African Legacy Group, known in South Africa for other properties such as the Michelangelo Hotel, with financial backing from Nedbank’s corporate investment unit.

To drum up interest, publicists for the Leonardo sent out a press release on the “iconic” tower’s virtues – including 234 metres in height, 56 floors, 6,050 steps to the top and a R3 billion (US$202.8 million) price tag.

According to South African news weekly the Mail & Guardian, the building outstrips the 222.5-metre Carlton Centre in central Johannesburg, which for 45 years had gone unchallenged as the “Top of Africa”.

“This year, after four years of construction... the Leonardo was officially certified by the Council on Tall Buildings and Urban Habitat as Africa’s tallest building,” the newspaper said.     

But is the Leonardo the “undisputed” holder of this sought-after African title

International tall building standards

The not-for-profit Council on Tall Buildings and Urban Habitat is based in the US city of Chicago. It has developed publicly available international standards for measuring and defining tall buildings. It also ratifies buildings on behalf of organisations such as the Guinness Book of World Records.

The council’s database is drawn from “official documentation such as building drawings, supplemented with local government approvals and permits to confirm heights, construction starts and completion dates”, Shawn Ursini, the CTBUH’s database editor, previously told Africa Check.

To qualify for certification, a building must be used for either residential, office or manufacturing purposes. Structures used for communication or observation aren’t considered.

It defines the architectural or official height" as "the measurement from the lowest open-air pedestrian entrance to the highest permanent architectural element, not including any functional equipment such as antennas, flag poles or lightning rods".

Leonardo must be completed first

We asked Ursini if the council had certified the Leonardo, as claimed by the project. This was “inaccurate”, he said.

Determining “if an appropriate title for tallest in Africa can indeed be claimed” would only be done when the building was complete, Ursini said. “Complete” is defined as “topped out, fully clad and at least partially occupiable”. The Leonardo wasn’t complete yet, he said.

Asked by Africa Check, the project’s developers conceded that it had to be complete to be officially certified by the CTBUH. Their building has been “architecturally topped out and is approaching practical completion in the coming weeks”, they said through a representative.

‘Submission approved in March’ 

The Leonardo gave an overview of steps they have so far taken towards certification.

“We had to apply to the Skyscraper Center which manages the CTBUH’s tall buildings database,” the Leonardo representative said. 

“We submitted drawings and images which were reviewed by them following which our submission was approved.” This was in "March this year". 

 Following this they added a further seven metres to the building. The entry to their CTBUH submission shows a height of 227 metres, with a note that this may change based on final height ratification.

'Not entirely correct' that drawings reviewed

The statement about drawings being reviewed was also “not entirely correct”, Ursini said.  

In response, the Leonardo representative said they had contacted the council to confirm the status of their application and would share the results with Africa Check. 

The claim of the Leonardo’s record-breaking height seems a case of overeagerness. But it would have to triple its effort to take the global crown, held by Dubai’s 828-metre Burj Khalifa.

But a review of the data suggests that the project’s certification is only a case of when, not if. There is no other obvious challenger on the African horizon. We will let you know when it is all official. 


Further reading:


Republish our content for free

We believe that everyone needs the facts.

You can republish the text of this article free of charge, both online and in print. However, we ask that you pay attention to these simple guidelines. In a nutshell:

1. Do not include images, as in most cases we do not own the copyright.

2. Please do not edit the article.

3. Make sure you credit "Africa Check" in the byline and don't forget to mention that the article was originally published on

Add new comment

Restricted HTML

  • Allowed HTML tags: <a href hreflang> <em> <strong> <cite> <blockquote cite> <code> <ul type> <ol start type> <li> <dl> <dt> <dd> <h2 id> <h3 id> <h4 id> <h5 id> <h6 id>
  • Lines and paragraphs break automatically.
  • Web page addresses and email addresses turn into links automatically.
limit: 600 characters

Want to keep reading our fact-checks?

We will never charge you for verified, reliable information. Help us keep it that way by supporting our work.

Become a newsletter subscriber

Support independent fact-checking in Africa.