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First look: Heatherwick creates Cape Town art museum in former grain silo

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Heatherwick Studio’s Zeitz Museum of Contemporary Art Africa (Zeitz MOCAA), a retrofit of an old grain silo on Cape Town’s waterfront, has been unveiled today 

Set on the edge of the harbour in the South African city, the nine-storey 9,500m² museum – carved out of the silo’s massive concrete structure – is designed to be the world’s largest museum dedicated to contemporary African art when it opens on 22 September.

The silo, disused since 1990 and once the tallest building in South Africa, has seen Thomas Heatherwick’s practice carve out galleries and an atrium space from the dense cellular structure of its 42 tubes. These are packed vertically through the body of its structure, with its organic-looking forms echoing Antoni Gaudí’s Sagrada Família in Barcelona. 

776 6  HR ZeitzMOCAA HeatherwickStudio Credit Iwan Baan Atrium view towards entrance

776 6 HR ZeitzMOCAA HeatherwickStudio Credit Iwan Baan Atrium view towards entrance

Source: Iwan Baan

The R500 million (£30 million) development is a partnership project between the V&A Waterfront and Jochen Zeitz, and will be a not-for-profit public cultural institution.

its 6,000m² of exhibition space is laid out over 80 separate galleries, a rooftop sculpture garden, art storage and conservation areas, bookshop, restaurant, bar and reading rooms. It will also house centres for the Costume Institute, photography, curatorial excellence, the moving image, performative practice and art education. 

776 COMMS Plan Ground Floor copy

776 COMMS Plan Ground Floor copy

Source: Heatherwick Studio

Ground floor plan

Architect’s view

The idea of turning a giant disused concrete grain silo made from 116 vertical tubes into a new kind of public space was weird and compelling from the beginning. The technical challenge was to find a way to carve out spaces and galleries from the 10-storey high tubular honeycomb without completely destroying the authenticity of the original building. The result was a design and construction process that was as much about inventing new forms of surveying, structural support and sculpting, as it was about normal construction techniques. 
Thomas Heatherwick, founder, Heatherwick Studio

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Readers' comments (3)

  • A remarkable and strangely compelling project.

    In 1997, in the run up to 1999 Glasgow's year of architecture and design, we, a few members of the Glasgow Institute of Architects, looked at turning the Meadowside Granaries, at the time the largest brick built structure in Europe, into an arts complex but the engineering and construction challenges seemed too great and the cost for Glasgow too high to convert the silos. We should have stuck at it.

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  • Mr Pevsner

    Meadowside Graneries clearly needed the right architect.

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  • True and the right client. Instead, The Lighthouse, the conversion of Mackintosh's Glasgow Herald building was the flagship project for 1999, the granaries demolished and Glasgow Harbour 1 created.

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