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Waterfront flies to new heights

Online since 29.10.2017 • Filed under Editor's Choice • From Issue 22 page(s) 18-22
Waterfront flies to new heights

With the opening of the Zeitz MOCAA (Museum of Contemporary Art Africa) in the second half of September, South Africa entered the super league of countries that host contemporary art collections from across a continent and its diaspora globally, protected by Category A climate control inside its 90 galleries. The technology has been endorsed by the International Council of Museums (ICOM) and is used in internationally renowned galleries such as Pompidou Metz, Pulitzer and Paul Klee.


To Builds editor, Gareth Griffiths, was one of an elite group of magazine editors and international journalists to be invited to cover the developers’ gala evening, the official press launch and the grand opening ceremony and ribbon cutting a week later.


After four years of repurposing and construction, the V&A Waterfront’s R500-million project to transform the historic grain silo into the world’s largest museum dedicated to contemporary art from Africa and its diaspora has reached completion, culminating in the official public opening of the Zeitz Museum of Contemporary Art Africa

(Zeitz MOCAA) on 22 September.

The grain silo’s architectural redevelopment from disused industrial building into a cutting-edge contemporary art museum was undertaken by London-based Heatherwick Studio in conjunction with local South African architects.


The transformed grain silo also houses a boutique 5-star hotel, appropriately called the SILO, on the top six floors of the former grain elevator section. Thomas Heatherwick, founder of Heatherwick Studio, said at the grand opening: ‘The idea of turning a giant disused concrete grain silo populated by pigeons and rats and made from 116 vertical tubes and boxes into a new kind of public space was weird and compelling from the beginning. We were excited by the opportunity’.


Suspended glass

The new building joins together the former elevator section with the silo ‘tube’ section and visitors move seamlessly through the combined spaces. The roof above the atrium is composed of special suspended glass. Using a similar material to that used at the Eiffel Tower and the ‘Gherkin’ building in London, the high-performance glass was supplied by St Gobain France to their Lite-Floor Xtra Grip specification. The glass includes a special ceramic fritting to prevent solar heat gain and was designed by distinguished artist, El Loko. Another noteworthy feature is the use of giant pillowed cellular glass windows, made in Cape Town to architect’s specification.


Many of the cut walls inside have been polished by a team lead by a master polisher who took over six months to complete their magic on the building.


Extraordinary cellular structure preserved

The combining of 42 individual cylindrical silos and interstitial spaces into an atrium, 90 individual galleries and a garden rooftop with sculpture garden was no mean feat for the architects and engineers.


‘Inside we were in danger of losing the extraordinary cellular structure, so we created a space that would help you (the visitor) understand the building. So, you would walk in and navigate around.


We took the idea of taking just one of those billions of grains of corn so that we could scale it up and use

it as a model for the cutting tools to cut through,’ said Heatherwick.


From preserving the historic architectural and industrial legacy of what was once the tallest building in South Africa, to developing a sustainable not-for-profit public cultural institution that collects, preserves, researches and exhibits cutting edge contemporary art from Africa and its diaspora, Zeitz MOCAA is intended to be an important cultural landmark that contributes to a stronger, wider appreciation of the continent’s cultural heritage.


Museum is a symbol of the confidence of being African

The principal sponsor of the museum is millionaire philanthropist, Jochem Zeitz, whose wife gave birth to a son a few weeks prematurely in Cape Town during the week of the launch, thus ensuring his footprints are forever etched into the rock of Africa.


‘Our vision was to create an accessible, contemporary art museum and it has finally come to fruition,’ said David Green, CEO of the V&A Waterfront.


Executive Director and Chief Curator of the Museum, Mark Coetzee said: ‘This museum is a symbol, an icon, of the confidence we feel about being African, the confidence that we feel about our place in the world. And that’s what makes this so extraordinary’.


And exciting the opportunity was, where at the public opening of the facility, guest of honour, Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu made a special appearance to bless the facility. He was supported by compatriots Judge Albie Sachs, Mayor Patricia de Lille and Premier Helen Zille, as well as a kaleidoscope of South African luminaries who jointly cut the ribbon curtain with 400 supporting ribbons cut by school children.


The awesome technology behind the SILO building renovation has been covered in the 2017 edition of our sister publication, SA Building Review and will be updated to include more technical details in the 2018 edition.


A Zeitz MOCAA and SILO visit is a worthy addition to anybody’s bucket list – even if you must travel from overseas!





Project team

Design architect: Heatherwick Studio

Executive architects: Van der Merwe Miszewski (VDMMA), Rick Brown Associates (RBA) and Jacobs Parker

Principal Agent and Project Manager: MACE

Main Contractor: WBHO

Structural Engineers: Arup and Sutherland Engineering

Mechanical Engineers: Arup

Electrical Engineers: Solution Station

Façade Engineers: Arup

Independent Commissioning Agent: Matrix

Issue 22

Issue 22

November 2017

This article was featured on page 18-22 of
To Build Magazine Issue 22.

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