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Heatherwick Turns Silo into Museum

Monday, September 25, 2017

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Last Friday (Sept. 22) marked the opening of Africa’s largest home for modern art, the Zeitz Museum of Contemporary Art Africa, a project in which designer Thomas Heatherwick had his work cut out for him.

Images: Heatherwick Studio

Last Friday (Sept. 22) marked the opening of Africa’s largest home for modern art, the Zeitz Museum of Contemporary Art Africa, a project in which designer Thomas Heatherwick had his work cut out for him.

The museum is housed in a structure that was once a grain silo. Constructed in 1921, the building fell out of use in 2001. Heatherwick first visited the site in 2005 and was eventually told that not only was the silo going to be repurposed for the museum (instead of being torn down), but that the building’s tubular walls were pretty poor for housing art.

David Green, CEO of the V&A Waterfront (where the silo sits), said, “Thomas Heatherwick understood how to interpret the industrial narrative of the building, and this was the major breakthrough. His design respects the heritage of the building while bringing iconic design and purpose to the building. Under his mentorship as lead designer, local partners stand to gain not only in experience but insights and knowledge sharing.’’

So, he started cutting.

The Process

“How do you turn 42 vertical concrete tubes into a place to experience contemporary culture?” Heatherwick asks on the museum’s website. “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 silo’s exterior, which was originally coated with magnolia paint, was water-jetted. At the top, textured convex windows were installed.

Two cellular structures housed the dozens of tubes that the team worked to deconstruct in order to create the central atrium and make way for the network of 80 cellular gallery spaces.

For the atrium, which spans the 88 floor-to-ceiling height of the structure, Heatherwick took the dimensions of a grain of corn to get the shape that would be cut into the concrete tubes.

"We realized we needed to do something that your eye couldn't instantly predict," he explained in an interview. "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."

Because workers were essentially hollowing out structures that were balancing one another, a new layer of concrete sleeving was added for to the cylinders for support. The columns eventually were able to contain staircases and glass elevators.

The silo’s exterior, which was originally coated with magnolia paint, was water-jetted. At the top, textured convex windows were installed.

The exhibition space totals more than 19,000 square feet. The development started in 2013 as a partnership between the V&A Waterfront and ex-Puma CEO and Chairman Jocehn Zeitz. Heatherwick partnered with Van Der Merwe Miszewski (VDMMA), Rick Brown Associates and Jacobs Parker for the 500 million rand ($37.8 million) project.

   

Tagged categories: Color + Design; Design; Design build

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