Industrial silo to art space

“How do you turn vertical concrete tubes into a place to experience contemporary culture?” asked Thomas Heatherwick, announcing at Design Indaba 2014 that his studio had won the commission to transform a silo into a major new African arts institution.

Of all the presentations, his was the most exciting for us – this new project, by an internationally acclaimed designer, is right here in Cape Town at the V&A Waterfront.


The brief called for a repurposing of the heritage-listed Grain Silo Complex which when it was built in 1921, was the tallest building on the Cape Town skyline. It consists of a cluster of forty-two 33m-high concrete tubes at 5.5m diameter each. With no open space included in the existing site, Heatherwick’s team of designers and architects was forced to think outside the box.

“There is no large open space within the densely packed tubes and it is not possible to experience these volumes from inside. 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,” explained Heatherwick.


The space will be known as Zeitz MOCAA – the Zeitz Museum of Contemporary Art Africa and will house what is considered the most extensive and representative collection of contemporary art from Africa, gifted in perpetuity by ex-Puma CEO and chairman, Jochen Zeitz. The venue will include: 80 galleries; 18 education areas; a rooftop sculpture garden; a storage and conservation area; site specific spaces for artwork in re-engineered underground tunnels; and Centres for Performative Arts, the Moving Image, Curatorial Excellence and Education.

If you live in Cape Town or are visiting sometime soon, we encourage you to go and see the temporary exhibition showing concept plans for the space at the V&A Waterfront near the site of the Coca Cola sculpture.

Go to the Zeitz Foundation for more information about the donation.

See this article in the Mail & Guardian for more on the art collection.

Pictures: V&A Waterfront