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The Zeitz Museum of Contemporary Art Africa is one of the most impressive feats of contemporary architecture in South Africa and is also an excellent example of transformation. The museum opened in the autumn of 2017 and during its first month had around 3,000 visitors per day, (source). The museum has almost 9,500 square meters of floor space to show art from throughout the continent and its diaspora, (source). The silo was originally built in 1921 and sits in the heart of the Victoria and Albert Waterfront. This area used to have an important harbor function but as ships have gotten larger this part of the port has lost its function and so did the old grain silo. This is similar to what happened in many port cities like the Wilhelminapier in Rotterdam or Canary Wharf in London. The grain silo was decommissioned in 2001 but had not been used since 1990. After 27 years of disuse the renovation of the silo started, (source).
The building was partly financed by Jochen Zeitz, hence the name of the museum. Zeitz’s impressive art collection of contemporary art from Africa and its diaspora will be on display in the museum and will make up the majority of the museum’s permanent collection. The museum’s head curator and executive director is Mark Coetzee a Cape Town local. Coetzee and Zeitz started planning a contemporary African art museum back in 2007, (source).
The building’s renovation was designed by Heatherwick Studio, the head architect being Tomas Heatherwick, (source). The silo was comprised of two distinct structures, the silos where grain was held and the taller building which housed the supporting offices and machinery. This building was at one point the tallest building in South Africa, (source). The grain was held in 42 cylinders, whose outline is still clearly visible from the outside. Although most of the cylinders were removed completely to make room for the 80 galleries about a quarter were left and a large elliptic atrium was cut out of them. By physically cutting out this space the atrium gets a cave-like almost alien feel. The space is massive and dramatic with light flooding in from the tops of the cylinders. This gives the space a cathedral-like lighting. Besides this cutting out of the space the cylinders have been left in their brút concrete exterior. This atrium acts of the building both in a spiritual sense but also in a physical sense being in the center of the building, (source).
The atrium is grand in every sense of the word but what is more impressive is the way in which the Heatherwick has been able to show the history of the building and allows visitors to see and to understand the structure of the building but still allowing the atrium to be airy, spacious and filled with light. Furthermore, the meeting between the original concrete basement and the new floor. The polished concrete and the new jet black floor create such a clear contrast and beautiful pattern. The slow curve that leads from the basement and slowly pulls your eye past all the weird shapes that have been created to the breathtaking roof and the light flooding back down.
The building is no less amazing from the outside. The base being almost completely windowless until the upper levels where large slightly curved pillow windows have been added. This sleek open top is in such contrast with the closed concrete base. In this way, it reminds me a lot of the Stedelijk Museum in Amsterdam by Benthem Crouwel Architects, (source). The contrast between old and new is so clear yet these parts function perfectly together once on the inside and the new part do not feel out of place.
The MOCAA will hopefully be able to showcase the art and artists of the continent in a building that the art of Africa deserves. It will hopefully spur similar institutions to be built all over the continent in buildings just as marvelous.
–Arch Daily. (2017, September 18). MINI Zeitz Museum of Contemporary Art Africa / Heatherwick Studio. Retrieved August 14, 2018
–Keller, H. (2017, September 15). Thomas Heatherwick Gives AD a Tour of the Zeitz MOCAA. Retrieved August 14, 2018
–L Cole, T. (2018, May 4). Jochen Zeitz: on a mission to the art of Africa. Retrieved August 14, 2018
–Larry’s List. (n.d.). How Jochen Zeitz Creates the World’s Largest Museum of Contemporary African Art. Retrieved August 14, 2018
–Seda, E. (2015, November 22). Zeitz Museum of Contemporary Art Africa MOCAA / Heatherwick Studios. Retrieved August 14, 2018
–Seiff, G. (2017, July 9). From Maize to Museum: The Long-Awaited Zeitz Museum of Contemporary Art Africa Aims to Let the Continent Tell Its Own Story. Retrieved August 14, 2018
–Sulcas, R. (2017, October 27). A Provocative Museum Places African Art on the Global Stage. Retrieved August 14, 2018
–Wikipedia. (n.d.). Zeitz Museum of Contemporary Art Africa. Retrieved August 14, 2018