Museum built at former grain silo

Heatherwick Studio’s £30 million art museum carved out of the concrete tubes of a former grain silo in Cape Town opens this week.

The Zeitz Museum of Contemporary Art Africa will be the world’s largest museum dedicated to contemporary art from Africa and its diaspora.

The new not-for-profit institution, Zeitz MOCAA, is housed in 9,500sq m of custom-designed space spread over nine floors in what was once the tallest building in South Africa.

The 57m tall grain silo opened in 1924 where the railway met the port beneath Table Mountain and was in use until 1990 for the sorting, storing and export of much of the country’s grain.

As a key landmark on the city’s skyline it was heritage-listed but its purpose-specific shape made it hard to find a new use. It consisted of two parts, a grading tower and 42 tall, cellular concrete silos.

Each of the carved tubes was capped with a 6m diameter panel of laminated glass bringing daylight into the atrium. The glass carries a frit commissioned from the late African artist El Loko based on his Cosmic Alphabet works which mitigate the heat from daylight and creates a safe, walkable surface for the sculpture garden.

The remaining internal tubes were removed to make space for 80 gallery spaces providing 6,000sqm of exhibition space. Underground tunnels have also been adapted for artists to create site-specific works.

The museum will also house a shop and cafés and centres for a costume institute, photography, curatorial excellence, the moving image, performative practice and art education.

The firm worked with a number of local collaborators who included delivery architects Van Der Merwe Miszewski, Rick Brown Associates and Jacobs Parker, lead fit-out designer.