Braamfontein Gate

Reaching New Heights

Gentrification of an emptied business district still produces security concerns. This building attempts to allay fears with hired personnel, CCTV, and fingerprint access to the building.

The Braamfontein Gate in Johannesburg's Braamfontein Business District is just one of the city’s many repurposed buildings. Built in 1976, it began as Total House, the South African headquarters for Total Elf Fina, the French-owned corporation that is one of six "super-oil" companies in the world. The steel and concrete skyscraper was designed in the Brutalist style, like the majority of buildings in this skyscraper-filled district. When the company moved to Rosebank, a suburb of Johannesburg, in 2011, it then served as headquarters for the UCS Group, as well as other commercial tenants, its name changing to the UCS Building and then to Lucs building. In 2014, a fire ruined the electrical system. The structure remained vacant for two years, when it was earmarked for conversion to middle-income residences.

Urban Task Force, a Johannesburg corporation that has been involved in urban renewal projects for over a decade—and also acts as landlord for numerous buildings--allocated a budget of R100 million ($7,268,402 USD) to Local Studio to complete the project. Trust for Urban Housing Finance (TUHF) also provided funding. Local Studio stated they envisioned a structure inspired by author and myth-specialist Joseph Campbell: "If you want to see what a society really believes in, look at what the biggest buildings on the horizon are dedicated to." They saw their efforts as contributing to the city’s direction “away from soulless capitalism.”

To keep costs low, many existing building elements were repurposed. Balconies made of chromadek panels and glass were added to each residential unit, and office layouts were restructured, as was the ground floor. Leasing began in August 2016, and, when completed, the building will have 410 units. In 2017, rents ranged from $305 USD for one-bedroom apartments to $458 USD for two bedrooms; executive apartments had monthly rents of $534 USD, and several penthouses were planned. The ground floor includes a coffee shop and juice bar, as well as a business center, playground, pool, fitness center and other amenities. Solar roof panels and a hot water heat pump system add newer technologies to the structure

The 30-floor building, the tallest in the Braamfontein district, has some of the best views in downtown Johannesburg. Pitched to a young, multi-ethnic demographic, it exemplifies efforts to lure citizens to areas that emptied out after post-apartheid white flight to the suburbs by both residents and corporations. The University of the Witwatersrand is located in Braamfontein, and student presence helps ensure a trendy neighborhood, further increased by an influx of young professionals and additional shops and restaurants. A three-minute walk to the Gautrain, the high-speed light rail that connects Johannesburg to the airport and Pretoria, also makes the building attractive.

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209 Smit Street and Rissik Street, Braamfontein, Johannesburg, South Africa