Thomas Heatherwick Does Totally Tubular, Totally Mind-Blowing Repurposing of Grain Silos

©. Zeitz MOCAA Galleries via Dezeen

Silos in Capetown are turned into South Africa's biggest art museum.

When I was a kid growing up in Toronto, the entire waterfront smelled like soybeans, which were stored and processed in the giant silo complex that is still sitting there. For years there have been plans and proposals for renovating them but nothing ever came of it. Buffalo across the lake is loaded with silos. We have shown schemes in Philadelphia that never happened.

vertical galleries

© Zeitz MOCAA Galleries via Dezeen

But in Capetown, South Africa, designer Thomas Heatherwick has not just raised the bar for silo conversions, he has changed it forever. He describes the the Zeitz Museum of Contemporary Art Africa, or Zeitz MOCAA, as "the world's tubiest building." He tells Dezeen:

"It became like archaeology, like excavating out gallery spaces, but not wanting to obliterate the tubularity completely. We realised we needed to do something that your eye couldn't instantly predict," he explained. "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."
looking straight up

© Zeitz MOCAA Galleries via Dezeen

It is really quite amazing, cutting away parts of the tubes and polishing their edges. I am not quite sure what is holding them up when they are just hanging there with nothing underneath, but there they are. It is a great gesture. Most of them were removed to create gallery space. "The curator was quite clear that the tubes were pretty rubbish for showing art in," but those that were retained show a whole new way of dealing with these wonderful relics.

cutaway galleries

© Zeitz MOCAA Galleries via Dezeen

So many cities have silos, and many are under threat. The wonder of this project is that it demonstrates how they can not only be preserved, but tuned into architectural wonders.

exterior of galleries

© Zeitz MOCAA Galleries via Dezeen

I have often had trouble with Heatherwick's work, but after this, all is forgiven.