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Following the V&A Waterfront’s announcement last November of plans to convert the old grain silo’s into an world-class art museum, comes the very exciting news of the lead architect tasked with reimagining this historic landmark.

Thomas Heatherwick of Heatherwick Studios in London, world renowned for his innovative industrial work, has been announced as the lead architect and will be working closely with local partners, and will no doubt be up skilling our local talent.

Imagine forty-two 33 metre high concrete tubes each with a diameter of 5.5 metres, with no open space to experience the volume from within. Imagine redesigning this into a functional space that will not only pay tribute to its original industrial design and soul, but will become a major, not-for-profit cultural institution housing the most significant collection of contemporary art from Africa and its Diaspora.

The brief given to Heatherwick Studio was to reimagine the Grain Silo Complex with an architectural intervention inspired by its own historic character. The project called for a solution that would be unique for Africa and create the highest possible quality of exhibition space for the work displayed inside.776_02_Interior_MR_ZeitzMOCAA_CREDIT_HeatherwickStudio (sml 2)

The V&A Waterfront’s challenge to repurpose what was once the tallest building on the Cape Town skyline caught the imagination of internationally acclaimed designer Thomas Heatherwick and his innovative team of architects.

This was a chance to do more than just appropriate a former industrial building to display art, but to imagine a new kind of museum in an African context.

Heatherwick Studio, based in London, is recognised internationally for projects including the UK Pavilion at the 2010 Shanghai World Expo, The London 2012 Olympic Cauldron, the New Bus for London and the redevelopment of Pacific Place, a 640,000m2 complex in the centre of Hong Kong.

For the Zeitz MOCAA project, Heatherwick Studio will partner with three local delivery partners; Van Der Merwe Miszewski (VDMMA), Rick Brown Associates (RBA) and Jacobs Parker. Jacobs Parker will be the lead designer for the Museum fit out.

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Explaining the design, Thomas 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”.

The solution developed by Heatherwick Studio was to carve galleries and a central circulation space from the silos’ cellular concrete structure to create an exceptionally spacious, cathedral-like central atrium filled with light from an overhead glass roof. The architects have cut a cross-section through eight of the central concrete tubes.  The result will be an oval atrium surrounded by concrete shafts overhead and to the sides. Light streaming through the new glass roof will accentuate the roundness of the tubes. The chemistry of these intersecting geometries creates an extraordinary display of edges, achieved with advanced concrete cutting techniques. This atrium space will be used for monumental art commissions not seen in Africa until this construction.

Grain silo (outside) Calvin Stables (2) (sml)

The other silo bins will be carved away above ground level leaving the rounded exterior walls intact. Inside pristine white cubes will provide gallery spaces not only for the Zeitz MOCAA permanent collection, but also for international travelling exhibitions.

Zeitz MOCAA will have:

  • 80 galleries,
  • 18 education areas,
  • a rooftop sculpture garden,
  • a state of the art storage and conservation area,
  • and Centres for Performative Practice, the Moving Image, Curatorial Excellence and Education.

Heatherwick Studios have designed all the necessary amenities for a public institution of this scale including  bookstores, a restaurant and bar, coffee shop, orientation rooms, a donors’ room, fellows’ room and various reading rooms. The extraordinary collection of old underground tunnels will be re-engineered to create unusual education and site specific spaces for artists to dialogue with the original structure.