Prolific architect Thomas Heatherwick just finished transforming an old grain silo in Cape Town into South Africa’s largest art museum – the Zeitz Museum of Contemporary Art Africa. The team spent years carefully renovating the silo’s 42 massive cylindrical concrete tubes into 6,000 square feet of gallery space, which will hold the world’s premier collection of African art.
The grain silo has held court over Cape Town’s Table Bay harbor since 1924. Some of the building’s rough concrete walls were kept intact, while others were carved into shapes and finished with polished concrete. An 88-foot-high cathedral-like atrium sits at the heart of the museum and leads to the expansive network of 80 individual galleries.
The design team preserved the silo’s bold concrete exterior while updating it with bulging glass windows that flood the interior with natural light. The renovation of the historic building was quite complicated, considering the tubular shape of the silos.
Heatherwick told Dezeen, “It became like archaeology, like excavating out gallery spaces, but not wanting to obliterate the tubularity completely. We realized we needed to do something that your eye couldn’t instantly predict,” he explained. “Our role was destructing rather than constructing, but trying to destruct with a confidence and an energy, and not treating the building as a shrine.”
The Zeitz Museum is just one part of the large waterfront complex that will eventually include bars and restaurants. The swanky Royal Portfolio Hotel, which was built into the silo’s grain elevators, opened earlier this year.