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Look inside Heatherwick’s Zeitz MOCAA – a museum in a giant Cape Town grain silo

Heatherwick Studio has carved an art museum out of 116 giant concrete tubes that make up Cape Town’s 93-year-old Grain Silo Complex.

The building, which will open to the public on 22 September, is set to be the world’s largest collection of contemporary art from Africa. In order to mastermind the building’s adaptive reuse, Heatherwick Studio had to slice into the enormous cylinders that were originally used to store grain – although the building had been disused since the 1990s.

Zeitz MOCAA, designed by Heatherwick Studio in Cape Town
Photography: Iwan Baan

‘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,’ said Heatherwick.

With the silo – once the tallest building in Sub-Saharan Africa – lacking any floors or rooms, the studio had to sculpt areas to house and connect the museum’s 80 galleries. Heatherwick has also created a huge central atrium, topped with a glass roof, that cleaves through the concrete tubes to expose their structure. Elevators connect the different floors, as well as spiral staircases that run up the cylinders like ‘big drill bits’.

Zeitz MOCAA, designed by Heatherwick Studio in Cape Town
Photography: Iwan Baan

‘The thing about this building that was so influential to the design we developed was its original function as part of this connected grain system in the whole of South Africa,’ said Thomas Heatherwick. ‘The building is defined by its tubey-ness, but there are also very crisp white clinical box spaces that don’t impose the character of the historic building on you.’

The studio has created nine floors in total, which offer 9,500 sq m of space including a rooftop sculpture garden, restaurant, and reading rooms. The top of the building is also home to The Silo hotel – which offers eclectic and industrial-inspired interiors, and looks out across the V&A Waterfront through ‘pillowy’ windows, also created by Heatherwick Studio.

Zeitz MOCAA, designed by Heatherwick Studio in Cape Town
Photography: Iwan Baan

The £30m development is a partnership between not-for-profit institution Jochen Zeitz and the V&A Waterfront – a harbourside area of Cape Town that already draws 100,000 visitors a day.

‘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,’ added Heatherwick.

Read next: See inside The Silo hotel atop the museum



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