(CNN) — A building in Sandton, Johannesburg’s financial center, will become the tallest in Africa when it opens later this year.
The Leonardo, a 55-story building which measures 745 feet (227 meters) in height, is just 15 feet taller than the previous record holder, the Carlton Centre, which has dominated the Johannesburg skyline since 1973.
Designed by South African firm Co-Arc International Architects, the Leonardo contains a mixture of office space, shops, apartments and hotel rooms. The architects chose to use thin sheets of Dekton, a super-strong material, for its exterior cladding.
The team of architects that managed the construction was female-led, with nine of the 11 positions performed by women. This unusual fact — the South African Institute of Architects in the Eastern Cape estimates that only 21% of the country’s registered architects are women — went unnoticed until a photo was taken late in the project.
Malika Walele, 27, an architect who oversaw construction at the site from November 2017, spoke to CNN about the difficulties she faced in her role: “Specifically being female, being young and being of color, there are a lot of challenges you face being in that building environment.
“I think there’s this preconception of females not being able to be in that sort of environment.”
Over the course of the project, she came into contact with roughly 2,000 workers, the great majority of whom were men. She says she faced sexism, but believes she helped to overturn people’s prejudice.
She added, “I really had to work hard to prove myself. It takes some personality. I really had to step up and speak out — make sure that I was being heard by the men.”
Patrick McInerney, director at Co-Arc International Architects, said he hopes the Leonardo will offer a “beacon of hope” for architecture and development on the continent.
Referring to the Pinnacle in Nairobi, Kenya, and the Mohammed VI Tower near Rabat, Morocco, he said, “Being the tallest [building] in Africa at this time is quite interesting, because we know of several other buildings that are being built that far exceed the one that we’ve just completed.”
He added, “I think that to a certain extent we’re hoping the success of the development itself will demonstrate that it’s possible to reach for the stars and achieve them.”
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