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Un «Empire State surafricano», el nuevo edificio más alto de África

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Leonardo

El Leonardo tiene 56 plantas de lujo. Albergará apartamentos, oficinas, obras de arte originales en las paredes, un hotel de cinco estrellas, hasta una guardería y un supermercado

Unos 234 metros le bastaron al Leonardo, el último gran edificio recortado contra el cielo del principal barrio financiero de Johannesburgo, para convertirse en el más alto de África. Es una especie de Empire State sudafricano que, más que un récord, busca ser un mensaje de confianza en el futuro.

En total, el Leonardo tiene 56 plantas a todo lujo. Están levantadas en pleno corazón del suburbio de Sandton, albergarán apartamentos, oficinas, obras de arte originales en las paredes, un hotel de cinco estrellas, hasta una guardería y un supermercado.

Por fuera, sin embargo, el Leonardo es más bien sobrio -acabado con placas de Dekton, un material sintético fabricado en España. Esto permite construir con placas muy ligeras- y está plagado de balcones para aprovechar el buen clima de Johannesburgo.

No tiene, por tanto, la imagen de torre de cristal que suele predominar entre las construcciones de alturas récord del mundo.

Su diseño es fruto de un proceso de construcción que creció sobre la marcha, adaptándose a la incertidumbre del mercado sudafricano.

«Éramos humildes, empezamos con 33 plantas y dijimos ‘que el mercado nos diga’. Y al mercado le gustó», explicó Bart Dorrestein, presidente del grupo Legacy, promotor del proyecto.

El proyecto 

Todo empezó en 2015, con la edificación de un estacionamiento y un podio sobre los cimientos de otro proyecto que había fracasado.

En medio del tumultuoso tráfico de Sandton, colocar estacionamientos era una opción económicamente muy viable con la que dar el pistoletazo de salida a la construcción de un nuevo rascacielos.

«Si empiezas hablando de un edificio de 55 plantas, nunca hubiera despegado del suelo. No hay agencia que vaya a financiar un proyecto de ese valor. Es simplemente demasiado grande», explicó Patrick McInerney, director de Co-ARC International Architects, el estudio sudafricano encargado del proyecto.

«Pero si lo tomas y lo partes en trozos pequeños y vendes la primera parte, entonces puedes convencer a las agencias de asumir la siguiente porción de riesgo. Y la siguiente porción del riesgo hasta que llegas a la cima», prosiguió McInerney.

El Leonardo costó finalmente unos 3.000 millones de rands (200 millones de dólares). Se espera que quede inaugurado antes de finales de este año.

Sus 234 metros lo sitúan 11 metros por encima del edificio que ostentó sin rival la corona del rascacielos más alto de África desde los años 70: el Carlton Center, ubicado también en Johannesburgo.

El título probablemente no le durará mucho tiempo. Hay ya, al menos, dos inmuebles -uno en Kenia y otro en Marruecos- con planes de superar esa altura.

«Queríamos construir el mejor y más inspirador edificio de su tiempo. El Empire State Building es un gran edificio, como lo es el Chrysler o el Rockefeller Center (todos en Nueva York). Todos en su tiempo fueron grandes edificios», ejemplificó Dorrestein.

«Alguien en algún momento construirá posiblemente un edificio más alto en África. Si lo hacen, que así sea. Nuestro edificio está ahí y es una declaración. Yo creo que es único y que lo hemos hecho lo mejor que podíamos. Es todo lo que puedo decir», agregó.

Esa «declaración» es un mensaje de optimismo para el futuro, porque el Leonardo se ha completado en un tiempo difícil para la economía más desarrollada del continente.

Futuro de Sudáfrica

«La gente que está implicada en este proyecto cree en el futuro de Sudáfrica y querían que fuera un faro de esperanza para los días mejores por venir», explicó Dorrestein.

De hecho, tanto el Carlton Center como el Leonardo, separados por unos 15 kilómetros, son, a su modo, el testimonio de dos momentos diferentes de la historia de Sudáfrica.

El Carlton Center está en el que era el centro financiero de la ciudad durante los tiempos de la segregación racial del «apartheid». El Leonardo se levantó en democracia por un equipo constituido mayoritariamente por mujeres y dando prioridad a la sostenibilidad.

Sandton, por su parte, vibra como el gran corazón financiero de África, mientras que la zona donde se encuentra el Carlton Center ha decaído, plagada de edificios abandonados y ocupados y lastrada por la elevada criminalidad.

Además, la apuesta del Leonardo por los apartamentos en una zona dedicada en general a los negocios es un desafío al modelo de extensos suburbios residenciales que domina Sudáfrica.

No solo es un modelo muy poco sostenible sino que, además, produce graves problemas de tráfico en urbes en las que apenas existe transporte público.

El apetito de los sudafricanos está poco a poco cambiando. Ya hay un pequeño mercado de jóvenes profesionales urbanos -gente de recursos y acostumbrado a viajar- que prefieren los apartamentos en grandes edificios.

«No hay duda de que (el modelo) está cambiando y de que los centros se están densificando y vivir en una gran casa en los suburbios va a convertirse en algo inusual, más que en la norma», consideró McInerney, antes de recordar que, al final, Johannesburgo es una ciudad muy joven -nacida al calor de la pujante minería hace apenas 130 años- que aún está buscando su camino.

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