Go inside the ZEITZ Museum of Contemporary Art Africa by Heatherwick Studio

Heatherwick Studio, based in London, is recognised internationally for projects including the UK Pavilion at the 2010 Shanghai World Expo, The London 2012 Olympic Cauldron, the New Bus for London and the redevelopment of Pacific Place, a 640,000m2 complex in the centre of Hong Kong.

Also read: Cape Town to get a Museum of Contemporary Art


How do you turn forty-two vertical concrete tubes into a place to experience contemporary culture?

Thomas Heatherwick said: “How do you turn forty-two vertical concrete tubes into a place to experience contemporary culture? Our thoughts wrestled with the extraordinary physical facts of the building. 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”.


The solution

The solution developed by Heatherwick Studio was to carve galleries and a central circulation space from the silos’ cellular concrete structure to create an exceptionally spacious, cathedral-like central atrium filled with light from an overhead glass roof. The architects have cut a cross-section through eight of the central concrete tubes.  The result will be an oval atrium surrounded by concrete shafts overhead and to the sides. Light streaming through the new glass roof will accentuate the roundness of the tubes. The chemistry of these intersecting geometries creates an extraordinary display of edges, achieved with advanced concrete cutting techniques. This atrium space will be used for monumental art commissions not seen in Africa until this construction.

The other silo bins will be carved away above ground level leaving the rounded exterior walls intact. Inside pristine white cubes will provide gallery spaces not only for the Zeitz MOCAA permanent collection, but also for international travelling exhibitions.

Imagine forty-two 33 metre high concrete tubes each with a diameter of 5.5 metres, with no open space to experience the volume from within.

More than a museum

Zeitz MOCAA will have 80 galleries, 18 education areas, a rooftop sculpture garden, a state of the art storage and conservation area, and Centres for Performative Practice, the Moving Image, Curatorial Excellence and Education. Heatherwick Studios have designed all the necessary amenities for a public institution of this scale including  bookstores, a restaurant and bar, coffee shop, orientation rooms, a donors’ room, fellows’ room and various reading rooms.


Working with the old, inspiring the new

The extraordinary collection of old underground tunnels will be re-engineered to create unusual education and site specific spaces for artists to dialogue with the original structure. Cylindrical lifts rise inside bisected tubes and stairs spiral upwards like giant drill bits. The shafts are capped with strengthened glass that can be walked over, drawing light down into the building.

The monumental façades of the silos and the lower section of the tower are maintained without inserting new windows. The thick layers of render and paint are removed to reveal the raw beauty of the original concrete.

From the outside, the greatest visible change is the creation of special pillowed glazing panels, inserted into the existing geometry of the grain elevator’s upper floors, which bulge outward as if gently inflated. By night, this transforms the building’s upper storeys into a glowing lantern or beacon in the harbour.

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