Heatherwick Studio transforms Cape Town grain silo into art museum
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Heatherwick Studio transforms Cape Town grain silo into art museum

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The technical challenge was to find a way to carve out spaces and galleries from the ten-storey high tubular honeycomb without completely destroying the authenticity of the original building

Heatherwick Studio’s latest completed building, the Zeitz Museum of Contemporary Art Africa (Zeitz MOCAA) has been unveiled today (15 September) ahead of its public opening next week on Cape Town’s V&A Waterfront.

The museum – the largest in the world dedicated to contemporary art from Africa and its diaspora – is housed in 9,500sq m (102,000sq ft) of custom-designed space, carved out of the city’s monumental historic Grain Silo Complex structure.

The design team were tasked with giving new life to the iconic building, once South Africa’s tallest, which had been disused since 1990 and is located on the edge of a historic working harbour, with the famous Table Mountain as its backdrop.

The galleries and the atrium space at the centre of the museum have been carved from the silos’ dense cellular structure of forty-two tubes. There are 6,000sq m (64,500sq ft) of exhibition space in 80 gallery spaces, a rooftop sculpture garden, storage and conservation areas, a bookshop, a restaurant, bar, and reading rooms.

The museum also houses a costume institute and centres dedicated to photography, film, performative practice and art education.

“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,” said Heatherwick Studio founder Thomas Heatherwick. “We were excited by the opportunity to unlock this formerly dead structure and transform it into somewhere for people to see and enjoy the most incredible artworks from the continent of Africa.

“The technical challenge was to find a way to carve out spaces and galleries from the ten-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.”

The R500m (US$40.3m, €33.8m, £30m) Zeitz MOCAA project, announced in November 2013, has been created in a partnership between the Victoria & Alfred Waterfront and businessman and conservationist Jochen Zeitz as a not-for-profit public cultural institution.

Earlier this year, a luxury hotel opened in the six storeys above the Zeitz MOCAA, in the grain elevator portion of the silo complex.

Also designed by Heatherwick Studio, the Silo Hotel has 26 guest rooms, including one bedroom penthouse, that are all more spacious vertically than horizontally due to the unique architecture of the building.

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Heatherwick Studio’s latest completed building, the Zeitz Museum of Contemporary Art Africa (Zeitz MOCAA) has been unveiled today (15 September) ahead of its public opening next week on Cape Town’s V&A Waterfront.
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