After more than ten years in the making, the Zeitz Museum of Contemporary Art Africa has finally opened. Based in Cape Town, South Africa, the museum is an architectural masterpiece with strong historical roots.
Built at the site of a 1920s grain silo, the museum has 42 concrete tubes protruding from its edifice. Glass windows stand atop each of the silos. But even though it is a magnificent site to see from the outside, the true highlight of the building is its 10-story high atrium. The stunning entry way was carved out of the original silo tubes.
Preserving the landmark’s historic value was a top priority for designer Thomas Heatherwick. But Heatherwick admits that it was challenging to make the inside just as beautiful as the outside.
“There was a real worry with his project about whether we could get people to come inside,” Heatherwick said in an interview with Dezeen. “Museum-going isn’t a normal thing here, and there was a great risk that people would come, have their photograph taken outside, and then go home saying they had been.”
That’s what inspired Heatherwick’s iconic atrium, which resembles an exploded grain husk.
“We’re used to buildings having their iconicity on the outside, whether it’s an Opera House or a Gherkin or a Shard,” Heatherwick explained. “These building have very powerful identities, but it felt like there was already a structure like that here. We were interested in how we could give a heart to the building and whether that heart could be compelling enough that you couldn’t say you’d been to the museum unless you’d gone inside it.”
And even though the museum just opened, it’s already been dubbed “Africa’s Tate Modern.” But more important than its outward appeal is its inwards appeal; a place where Africans can have their artistic contributions celebrated and revered.