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

Skyscrapers are jostling to top Johannesburg’s Carlton Centre as the king of the African skies. The official title can be a bit elusive, making some contenders a little hasty.

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:


© Copyright Africa Check 2020. Read our republishing guidelines. You may reproduce this piece or content from it for the purpose of reporting and/or discussing news and current events. This is subject to: Crediting Africa Check in the byline, keeping all hyperlinks to the sources used and adding this sentence at the end of your publication: “This report was written by Africa Check, a non-partisan fact-checking organisation. View the original piece on their website", with a link back to this page.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *


Africa Check encourages frank, open, inclusive discussion of the topics raised on the website. To ensure the discussion meets these aims we have established some simple House Rules for contributions. Any contributions that violate the rules may be removed by the moderator.

Contributions must:

  • Relate to the topic of the report or post
  • Be written mainly in English

Contributions may not:

  • Contain defamatory, obscene, abusive, threatening or harassing language or material;
  • Encourage or constitute conduct which is unlawful;
  • Contain material in respect of which another party holds the rights, where such rights have not be cleared by you;
  • Contain personal information about you or others that might put anyone at risk;
  • Contain unsuitable URLs;
  • Constitute junk mail or unauthorised advertising;
  • Be submitted repeatedly as comments on the same report or post;

By making any contribution you agree that, in addition to these House Rules, you shall be bound by Africa Check's Terms and Conditions of use which can be accessed on the website.


This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.