Creating a 'cathedral-like' arts space in Cape Town from a former silo for V&A Waterfront
“How do you turn forty-two vertical concrete tubes into a place to experience contemporary culture?” asks Thomas Heatherwick, Founder of Heatherwick Studio, a London-based firm that has just scooped the commission to transform the Grain Silo Complex at the V&A Waterfront in Cape Town into a ‘cathedral-like’ arts space. Heatherwick Studio is working in collaboration with three local deliver partners: Van Der Merwe Miszewski; Rick Brown Associates; and Jacobs Parker.
This challenging brief asked the design team to take a heritage-listed cluster of forty-two 33m-high concrete tubes at 5.5m diameter each and convert them into an accessible and inspirational venue to exhibit the most extensive collection of contemporary art from Africa and its Diaspora (gifted to the institution by ex-Puma CEO and Chairman Jochen Zeitz).
With no open space included in the existing site, the team was forced to think outside the box. Heatherwick explains: “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 resulting design carves an accessible circulation space from the concrete cluster to form a grand atrium capped with a glass roof. Natural light streams through this roof system to create the ‘cathedral-like’ feel. The concrete shafts have been retained above and to the sides of the open space. Eight central tubes have been sliced in a cross-section while the rounded exterior walls of the concrete cluster have been left intact.
In addition to this grand atrium, the new V&A Waterfront venue will include: 80 galleries; 18 education areas; a rooftop sculpture garden; a storage and conservation area; site specific spaces for artwork in re-engineered underground tunnels; and Centres for Performative Arts, the Moving Image, Curatorial Excellence and Education.
David Green, CEO of the V&A Waterfront 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.''