Thomas Heatherwick will turn grain silos into a contemporary museum in Cape Town
British designer chosen for Zeitz Museum of Contemporary Art Africa
By Cristina Ruiz. Web only
Published online: 02 March 2014
The British designer Thomas Heatherwick has been chosen to convert a 1920s granary in Cape Town into a museum for contemporary African art collected by Jochen Zeitz, the former chairman of sportswear company Puma.
The Zeitz Museum of Contemporary Art Africa (Zeitz MoCAA) is scheduled to open in late 2016; it will have 102,000 sq. ft of space over nine floors, including 65,000 sq. ft for displays. It is on the Victoria and Alfred waterfront, which is already home to several museums and an aquarium, and attracts more than 24 million visitors a year, making it the most visited site in Africa.
The existing granary consists of 42 concrete silos each 103-ft high with a diameter of 18 ft, but there is no large open space inside the structure. Heatherwick will raze most of the silos down to ground level and build traditional white cube spaces to display art drawn from the Zeitz collection as well as international travelling exhibitions. There will be 80 galleries, 18 education rooms, a rooftop sculpture garden as well as storage and conservation areas, among other facilities including a restaurant, coffee shop, and bookstores.
Eight central silos will be partially preserved and cut through laterally to create an oval atrium surrounded by concrete shafts overhead and to the sides. A glass ceiling will allow natural light to illuminate the soaring central space, which will be used for monumental art commissions. A labyrinth of underground tunnels will be redesigned to create spaces for site-specific artist installations and education spaces.
“Unlike many conversions of historic buildings which have grand spaces ready to be repurposed, this building has none,” says Heatherwick about the challenges of designing Zeitz MoCAA. “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.”
Heatherwick’s design will allow visitors to experience the silos from the inside: cylindrical lifts will rise inside bisected tubes and the shafts will be capped with strengthened glass that can be walked over.
Heatherwick, who has never designed a museum before, is known for his stunning cauldron at the 2012 London Olympics, consisting of dozens of individual “petals” which rose as they were lit; his British pavilion at the 2010 Shanghai World Expo, an organic structure resembling a sea urchin, was equally impressive and won the prize for best pavilion.
Describing the project, Mark Coetzee, executive director and chief curator of Zeitz MoCAA, said, “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 recognises the creative talents of Africa.”
Zeitz MoCAA is being created in partnership with the V&A Waterfront, which owns the building and is providing more than R500m (around $49m) for its conversion into a museum. Until the new museum opens, Coetzee is organising shows in a pavilion near the granary. The current exhibition is devoted to Thomas Heatherwick.
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