This Is The World's Largest Museum For Contemporary African Art

BY Rebecca Anne Proctor / Oct 24 2017 / 14:27 PM

The new Heatherwick-designed Zeitz Museum of Contemporary Art Africa in Cape Town takes its pivotal place in the middle of Africa's cultural infrastructure

This Is The World's Largest Museum For Contemporary African Art
Photography by Iwan Baan
A view of Silo Square

The world’s largest museum dedicated to contemporary art from Africa and its diaspora opened on 22 September at Cape Town’s V&A Waterfront. Designed by internationally-acclaimed Heatherwick Studio, led by British designer Thomas Heatherwick, the museum is housed in 9,500-square-metres of custom-designed space, spread over 9 floors, and carved out of the monumental structure of historic Grain Silo Complex. Unused since 1990, the Grain Silo Complex serves as a monument to the industrial past of Cape Town. It was once the tallest building in South Africa and is now endowed with new life thanks to Heatherwick Studio.

“The idea of turning a giant disused concrete grain silo made from 116 vertical tubes into a new kind of public space was weird and compelling from the beginning,” says Heatherwick. “The technical challenge was to find a way to carve out spaces and galleries from the 10-storey high tubular honeycomb without completely destroying the authenticity of the original building.”

At the centre of the museum, the galleries and cathedral-like atrium space have been literally carved out from the silos’ dense cellular structure of 42 tubes that pack the building. “The result was a design and construction process that was as much about inventing new forms of surveying, structural support and sculpting, as it was about normal construction techniques,” adds Heather-wick. The new museum includes a rooftop sculpture garden, 6,000 square metres of exhibition space in 80 galleries, state-of-the-art storage and conservation areas, a bookshop, restaurant and bar as well as reading rooms. The museum also houses centres for Photography, a Costume Institute, Curatorial Excellence, the Moving Image, Performative Practice and Art Education.

A world first, such a building is set to put contemporary art on the map in a structure based in the continent from whence it originates. “As the opening approaches we are all looking forward to witnessing the impact of the museum’s ambitious artistic programme and the museum taking its pivotal place in the middle of Africa’s cultural infrastructure,” says Heatherwick. The R500m ($39m) development of Zeitz MOCAA was announced in November 2013, and has been created in a partnership between the V&A Waterfront and Jochen Zeitz, the former chairman of the sportswear company Puma, who has given his art on long-term loan to Zeitz MOCAA as well as made a donation towards the running costs of the museum. It will run as a not-for-profit public cultural institution in the heart of one of most visited cultural and historical hubs in Africa.

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