Cape Town – Africa’s first museum of contemporary art unites three visions. Art collector Jochen Zeitz, curator Mark Coetzee and the V&A Waterfront banded together to conceive the Zeitz Museum of Contemporary Art Africa (Zeitz MOCAA), which occupies nine floors of a historical – and heritage-protected – grain silo in South Africa’s Cape Town. The 9,475-sq-m museum – whose permanent collection was accumulated privately over the past 15 years by Zeitz himself – includes over 6,000 sq-m of display space.
Zeitz MOCAA shares its premises with The Silo Hotel, a project by hospitality group The Royal Portfolio. London-based Heatherwick Studio was responsible for both the interior of the museum and the exterior of the entire building, and The Royal Portfolio’s Liz Biden designed the hotel spaces. Externally, the biggest visible change to the original structure is the addition of glazing that is inserted into the geometry of the façade: pillowed windows bulge out as if slightly inflated.
Normally we supervise a building process; this was a demolition process
Inside the museum, the impressive transformation by Heatherwick Studio was no mean feat. The architects were confronted with a 1920s building comprising 42 concrete silos, each 33 m tall and 5.5 m wide. Slicing into the walls, Heatherwick’s team carved out a large oval atrium – an industrial cathedral – symbolically shaped like an oversize kernel of grain. Although the building was dramatically overhauled, the architects retained a number of elements from the silo’s storage days, such as train tracks, track sheds and a hydraulic accumulator. Galleries, on the other hand, are standardized white boxes with grey concrete floors. Offering no site-specificity, they make sure that all attention goes to the art and not to the setting.