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Heatherwick reveals plans for Cape Town art complex

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Olympic cauldron designer Thomas Heatherwick has been appointed to convert 42 concrete grain silos in Cape Town, South Africa into a major cultural institution

The historic complex of 33m-tall silos, which have been unused since 1990, will be re-purposed to house the Zeitz Museum of Contemporary Art Africa (Zeitz MOCCA).

The nine-storey 9,500m2 scheme will include 6,000m2 of exhibition space within 80 galleries, alongside education spaces, a rooftop garden, an art storage and conservation area, restaurant, café and reading rooms.

Heatherwick’s design carves out galleries and central circulation space for the silos’ concrete structure creating a central atrium with a glass roof.

The other silo bins will be carved away above ground level leaving the rounded exterior walls intact, while inside white cubes will provide gallery spaces for both the Zeitz MOCAA permanent collection and for international travelling exhibitions.

Heatherwick Studios will partner with three local delivery partners in South Africa to complete the scheme, which sits within the V&A Waterfront mixed-use development.  

Heatherwick said: ‘How do you turn forty-two vertical concrete tubes into a place to experience contemporary culture? Our thoughts wrestled with the extraordinary physical facts of the building. There is no large open space within the densely packed tubes and it is not possible to experience these volumes from inside. Rather than strip out the evidence of the building’s industrial heritage, we wanted to find a way to enjoy and celebrate it. We could either fight a building made of concrete tubes or enjoy its tube-iness.

He added: ‘Unlike many conversions of historic buildings which have grand spaces ready to be repurposed, this building has none. The project has become about imagining an interior carved from within an infrastructural object whilst celebrating the building’s character.’

Mark Coetzee, executive director Zeitz MOCAA commented: ‘By repurposing our architectural heritage through an evocative juxtaposition of industrial design and contemporary art, we are creating a culturally significant institution of a scale that truly recognizes the creative talents of Africa. We have worked tirelessly with Heatherwick Studio to imagine a showcase for all the components of a functioning contemporary art museum, designed to allow the public direct access to, and  engagement with, the most cutting edge artistic practice.’

The concrete silos were originally constructed in 1921 to process wheat, maize, soya and sorghum, and have become an ‘icon of the Cape Town skyline’.

The scheme is set to open in 2016.

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