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Zeitz MOCAA (Museum of Contemporary Art Africa)

The Zeitz Museum of Contemporary Art Africa (Zeitz MOCAA) is a contemporary art museum housed in what was formerly a distinctive grain storage silo, built on the Victoria & Alfred Waterfront, Cape Town. The Silo had stored grain from the 1920s until it was decommissioned in the 1990s. In 2015, the owners of the Silo, Victoria & Alfred Waterfront, were considering adapting the building into a site for a major cultural institution, which coincided with the Zeitz Foundation’s seeking a permanent new home for its collection of contemporary art from Africa and its diaspora.

The industrial structure is made up of two parts: a grading tower and 42 tall circular silos. The greatest challenge was how to convert these immense concrete tubes into spaces suitable for exhibiting art while retaining the building’s industrial character.

The answer was to carve out an atrium, like a vaulted cathedral, to form the heart of the museum. Literally scooped from the centre of the building, this area provides access to the floors that are organised around it. Implementing this concept was technically challenging. The rounded shape of the space was mapped out with nails and the insides of the concrete tubes were lined with sleeves of reinforced concrete. The cut edges were then polished to create a mirrored finish that contrasts with the building’s rough concrete aggregate.

During the day natural light floods into the atrium from the top of the tubes through facets of glass that recall El Loko’s artwork “Cosmic Alphabet”. MaxiWoody projectors have been installed inside the silos to emphasise the texture of the material, and especially the height and remarkable size of the tubes at night. The building recently won the Architizer A+ Jury Award in the “Best Museum Building” category.

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  • Year
  • Client
    Zeit Foundation
  • Structural engineering:
    Arup and Sutherland
  • Developer:
    V&A Waterfront Holdings (Pty) Ltd
  • Contractor:
  • Heritage consultant:
    Nicolas Baumann
  • Architects:
    Heatherwick Studio
  • Local architects:
    Van der Merwe Miszewski Architects (VDMMA)
    Jacobs Parker
    Rick Brown Associates
  • Photographer
    Wianélle Photography

Project Quote

"When we design a new place, light is a fundamental element that brings life and soul. Our project in Cape Town, Zeitz MOCAA, was formerly an industrial silo used to store grain. When transforming it into its new use as a museum, we carved an atrium that revealed the inside of the tubes for the first time. The lighting is essential to breathing life into these tubular arteries by adding warmth, depth and atmosphere to the dramatic new space."

Thomas Heatherwick

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