Zeitz Museum of Contemporary Art Africa

Cape Town's Grain Silo by Thomas Heatherwick

Last weekend, the extraordinary Zeitz Museum of Contemporary Art Africa (MOCAA) in Cape Town, South Africa opened its doors for the public. The museum is set to become the world’s most important exhibition space for African art, and with its iconic building by Heatherwick Studio it already draws the needed attention. The London-based firm transformed the building, both on the outside and inside, from a dead industrial structure into a mind-bending icon, instantly joining the Pantheon of some of the most beautiful museum buildings to be found all over the globe.

Iwan got a preview earlier this summer and we’re happy to share it here.

The museum is located on the V&A waterfront inside one of Cape Town’s former tallest buildings, an old 1920s grain silo. The silos were left there, but with an extremely complex construction Heatherwick made it possible to carve out the form of a single grain scaled up to span the full height of the 27-metre-high structure, creating a “vaulted cathedral” in the center of the building. The building now includes almost 10.000 square meter of exhibition spaces divided over 9 floors, 80 galleries dedicated to promoting African contemporary art. It also houses a rooftop garden, conservation labs, a bookshop, restaurant and a bar.

Not only the inside is mind-blowing, but Heatherwick also gave the facade a wildly visual upgrade. The bulging windows of faceted glass panels on the exterior feel like mirror balls giving a strange kaleidoscopic visual effect on the inside while reflecting the hundreds of faceted Mountain Tabels and Robben Islands on the outside. Simply beautiful!

Heatherwick on Dezeen:

“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.”

We were interested in how we could give a heart to the building … It was quite clear that the tubes were pretty rubbish for showing art in, so [the challenge] was how we could retain the spirit of this tubularity but also give functionality, to create an A-grade gallery space.

“It became like archaeology, like excavating out gallery spaces, but not wanting to obliterate the tubularity completely,”
“We realised we needed to do something that your eye couldn’t instantly predict,” he explained. “Our role was destructing rather than constructing, but trying to destruct with a confidence and an energy, and not treating the building as a shrine.”

Photography by Iwan Baan.

For more work by Thomas Heatherwick see here

For all information on the Zeitz MOCAA see here