Zeitz MOCCA – The New Museum of Contemporary Art Africa

I recently had the pleasure of being in the V&A Waterfront for lunch and decided to take a walk to the new Silo complex. I was aware of the museum due to it taking up approx. 6 floors with the Silo Hotel (part of The Royal Portfolio) being built on top. It is an iconic building and an architectural masterpiece.

The grain silo was the tallest building in Sub-Saharan Africa when it was opened in August 1924. It closed in August 2001 after nearly 80 years at the heart of South Africa’s industrial and agricultural development. The grain silo played an integral role in terms of international trade as an export facility, but it also provided vital infrastructure to South Africa’s regional agricultural economies supporting local farming communities while also making a major contribution to the economic activities of Table Bay harbour.

The building has two parts – the elevator tower, where The Silo Hotel is located, which facilitated the mechanical bulk handling of grain, and the actual storage silos themselves.

The Silo (hotel) has been built in the grain elevator portion of the historic grain silo complex occupying six floors above Zeitz MOCAA (Museum of Contemporary Art Africa). Zeitz MOCAA houses Africa’s largest collection of contemporary African art.

The exterior of the building was designed by Thomas Heatherwick, of the London-based Heatherwick Studio. From the outside, the greatest visible change to the building’s original structure is the addition of the ingenious glass windows inserted into the geometry of the hotel floors. These multi-faceted windows bulge outward as if gently inflated. By night, this transforms the building into a glowing beacon in the Table Bay harbour.

The Zeitz MOCCA is the largest collection of contemporary Art in Africa. This is a not-for-profit museum, commissioned through a public/private partnership between the V&A Waterfront and German businessman, Jochen Zeitz.

The architects aimed to conserve and celebrate the original structure’s industrial heritage, while simultaneously excavating large open spaces from the 42 densely-packed concrete cylinders from which it was comprised. And boy did they not disappoint. One is left breathless when you first enter the atrium.

Using a variety of concrete-cutting techniques the interior of the building has been carved-out to create a number of galleries and a large central atrium.

The remaining concrete shafts have been capped with strengthened glass in order to allow natural light to enter and create a “cathedral-like” interior. When you go up to the viewing platform, you walk over these ‘suspended glass’ panels – allowing one to view down into the atrium interior.

The Art does not disappoint either. Zeitz’s collection includes works by such eminent artists as Chris Ofili, Kudzanai Chiurai, Kehinde Wiley, Glenn Ligon, Marlene Dumas, Wangechi Mutu, and Julie Mehretu. These are powerful pieces of work, and one is left in awe when visiting each floor and each artist’s curated work.

The Zietz MOCCA is definitely a stop that anyone visiting Cape Town must visit. If the art doesn’t speak to you, the architectural wonder of the Silo will!

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by Anthony Brink

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