In Cape Town, Thomas Heatherwick, who we've previously characterized as the mad scientist of British design, is reworking an out-of-use grain silo complex to showcase African art. The renderings that have been released for the project so far make an effective case for repurposing way more silos as public spaces. With an impressive accommodation of the building's original structure and use, it looks like an industrial cathedral.
Heatherwick Studio is working with Cape Town's V&A Waterfront to design a home for the Zeitz Museum of Contemporary Art Africa (Zeitz MOCAA), a newly established collection of contemporary art from Africa and its diaspora set to open in 2016. The nine-story building will have more than 65,000 square feet of exhibition space, with 80 galleries and a rooftop sculpture garden.
The challenge, naturally, is that the structure of a silo doesn't easily lend itself to viewing art. They're tall, concrete tubes—at this site, 42 of them, more than a hundred feet tall and only 18 feet in diameter—packed densely together with no obvious open space to allow museum circulation. So Heatherwick's plan is to carve out space from the inside, hollowing the concrete tubes out near the ground floors to create a large circulation space that looks up into the silos above, with the original structure serving almost as the vault of the cathedral-like space. A glass roof topping the silo complex will fill the atrium with natural light.
"Rather than strip out the evidence of the building’s industrial heritage, we wanted to find a way to celebrate it," Heatherwick said in a statement on the project. "We could either fight a building made of concrete tubes or enjoy its tube-iness."
More silo bins whose ground floors have been carved out, retaining the round exterior walls, will serve as galleries for the permanent collection. Existing underground tunnels will be used for site-specific artist installations and for educational rooms.
Retaining the soul of the original structure is the museum's nod to industrial history in what is now one of Cape Town's biggest tourist attractions, the Victoria & Alfred Waterfront. The design allows Cape Town to preserve what was once the tallest building on the city's skyline as a modern cultural attraction—in all its tube-iness.