New openings

Z is for Zeitz

An A to Z of Africa’s brand new modern art museum

The highly anticipated Zeitz Museum of Contemporary Art Africa (Zeitz MOCAA) opened in Cape Town, South Africa, in September – the largest museum of its kind in Africa and the first major museum on the continent dedicated to modern art from Africa and its diaspora.

Its founder, Jochen Zeitz, says: “I built my collection with a museum in Africa always in mind. The fact that these works will now be accessible to all is a very emotional thing for me personally and, ultimately, gives the art true purpose.”

The museum is a stunning conversion from a historic grain silo complex structure, which has been reimagined by British architect Thomas Heatherwick.

Located on the city’s Victoria & Albert Waterfront with Table Mountain as its backdrop, the 1920s silo building – for a while, the tallest in South Africa – had become an iconic structure. The design team were tasked with giving new life to the building, which had been out of use since 1990.

The galleries and the atrium space at the centre of the museum have been carved from the silos’ dense cellular structure of forty-two tubes. There are 6,000sqm (64,500sq ft) of exhibition space over 100 gallery areas, a rooftop sculpture garden, storage and conservation areas, a bookshop, a restaurant, bar, and reading rooms.

The museum houses a costume institute and centres dedicated to photography, film, performative practice and art education.

“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, founder of Heatherick Studio. “We were excited by the opportunity to unlock this formerly dead structure and transform it into somewhere for people to see and enjoy the most incredible artworks from the continent of Africa.”

A - atrium
Inside the grain house, where 42 cylindrical silos were packed together, Heatherwick Studio carved out an instantly iconic atrium.

“We developed a concept to carve out an atrium, like a vaulted cathedral, to form the museum’s heart. Scooped from the building’s centre, it provides access to the gallery floors that are organised around the central atrium,” the studio says. “The design preserves and celebrates the structure’s industrial heritage. The original concrete tubes are carved away to create a spectacular atrium and house international and touring exhibitions.”

B - beacon
Next to the silo building was the grading tower. Heatherwick imagined the tower as a beacon, its top half consisting of a repeated glass design. When night falls, the tower is lit up like a lantern for Cape Town.

C - collection
Jochen Zeitz has been working with curator Mark Coetzee since 2008 to build a collection that reflected their vision for a museum dedicated to contemporary African art. Part of that aim has been to give the artworks a home in the region so that people from Africa can enjoy them and be inspired by them. Another motive has been to keep bodies of work by leading African artists together, so that they can be curated in a variety of ways and displayed together. The Zeitz Collection, which is on long-term loan to the museum as it finds its feet, will continue to grow as new acquisitions are made over the coming decade.

D - digital scan
During the first site visits, there were still remnants of grain around the building. The Heatherwick team found an ear of corn on the floor, which was digitally scanned and blown up to give them the design for the shape of the atrium. The design had to be hand-carved out of the concrete tubes.

E - El Loko
The late African artist El Loko created a specially commissioned etching for the glass roof of the atrium. The glass panels allow daylight into the atrium below and serve as a walkable surface for the sculpture garden. Each panel of laminated glass, measuring 6 metres (20 feet) across, carries his design, which is based on his Cosmic Alphabet works. El Loko’s vision was to create a universal language that transcends racial and cultural barriers. The frit pattern is visible on nine glass panels consisting of 16 glass panes each. The artist died in November 2016, just after completing this work for Zeitz MOCAA.

F - free access
All under-18s access the museum for free. There is also free entry for South African and African citizens on Wednesday mornings and on regular Museum Nights.

G - garden
The rooftop sculpture garden, where visitors can walk on glass panels 33 metres above the atrium floor, connects the museum with the Silo hotel.

H - hotel
A luxury 26-room hotel, the Silo, has opened in the six storeys above the Zeitz MOCAA, in the grain elevator part of the complex.

I - international exhibitions
The Zeitz Collection collects art from Africa and its diaspora, but Zeitz MOCAA will also host international exhibitions.

J - joint venture
The not-for-profit museum is the result of a joint venture between the V&A Waterfront and Jochen Zeitz. The V&A Waterfront provides use of the building for free and paid for the transformation. Zeitz is contributing to the running costs, as well as loaning the artworks.

K - Kofi Annan
Former UN secretary-general and Ghanaian diplomat Kofi Annan is a friend of Jochen Zeitz and a patron of Zeitz MOCAA.

“By providing a platform for the incredibly talented and passionate artists across Africa and beyond, this museum fills a critical gap in the continent’s art scene. I’m proud to be part of this journey,” he says.

L - logo
A logo, font and branding was created pro bono for the museum by M&C Saatchi Abel advertising agency. The grid-style logo reflects the 42 silos and can be represented in a variety of colours, patterns and textures. An original font called Forty Two is used throughout the building.

M - millennium
Zeitz MOCAA focuses on art made since the millennium up to and including the present day. The Zeitz Collection is dedicated to art of the 21st century.

N - neighbours
Neighbouring attractions not far from Zeitz MOCAA include the Cape Town Diamond Museum, Ripley’s Believe It or Not, the Springbok Experience Rugby Museum, the South African Maritime Museum, the Cape Wheel and the Two Oceans Aquarium.

O - Off-the-air
Tunisian artist Mouna Karray is the subject of an opening exhibition in the Roger Ballen Foundation Centre for Photography. Running through 15 January, OFF-THE-AIR presents the sparse landscapes and abandoned environments of Karray’s oeuvre. Works also look at how her homeland lost its economic significance.

P - photography
The museum’s Centre for Photography was made possible thanks to major donations from the Roger Ballen Foundation and the Eiger Foundation. Famed American photographer Ballen, who has lived and worked in South Africa since the 1970s, is also donating numerous signed editions of his works.

“It has been my great desire to contribute to the understanding of photography in South Africa, in the country that I call home,” says Ballen. “By donating my archive and finance to Zeitz MOCAA, I wish to ensure that photography is guaranteed a place in the museum’s activities.”

Q - queues
Reports suggest people have been queuing for around 45 minutes to get into the museum, as visitor numbers have been far higher than first estimated – around 5,000 per day. Visitors are advised to buy tickets online to skip the entrance queue.

R - restaurant
The 200-cover Zeitz MOCAA Food opens on 1 December 2017 on level six, offering panoramic views of Cape Town and the sculpture garden. It’s managed by luxury events specialists Aleit Group. Aleit is the exclusive event operator throughout the museum, including the multifunctional event space and the Atrium, which is available for private functions.

S - storage
Zeitz MOCAA is equipped with state of the art storage zones and conservation areas.

T - tubes
The 42 vertical tubes that made up the silo became central to the project, connecting the industrial history of the building to the atrium that represents Zeitz MOCAA’s heart. The concrete tubes were only 170mm thick and after they were carefully carved into shape, they had to be lined with inner sleeves of reinforced concrete.

U - underground tunnels
Underground tunnels beneath the building were used to transport grain and are feats of architectural engineering in themselves. The tunnels have been preserved and adapted to support site-specific artworks.

V - V&A Waterfront
The Victoria & Albert Waterfront attracts 24 million visitors every year. The 123-hectare development, which opened within the busy port area in 1988, includes commercial, retail, cruise, leisure and entertainment activity. Until now, it lacked a cultural offer.

W - waves
The nine-screen projection film Ten Thousand Waves (2010), by Isaac Julien, is said to be one of the most visited contemporary artworks in the world and is now part of the Zeitz Collection.

X - Xhosa
A national Xhosa folk tale about a lightning bird is the inspiration for Iimpundulu Zonke Ziyandilandela (All the Lightning Birds Are After Me), the huge sculpture that marks the atrium’s debut installation. It’s by South African artist Nicholas Hlobo.

Y - yellow
The silo was painted yellow in the 1980s. Layers of paint had to be scraped away to return the building to its original façade.

Z - Zeitz Foundation
The Zeitz Foundation is a charitable organisation founded by Zeitz in 2008. Led by its 4Cs philosophy (conservation, community, culture, commerce), it oversees the Long Run initiative, a members group of nature-based sustainable tourism businesses, and the Laikipia Programme, which runs social programmes in Kenya.


Jochen Zeitz
Jochen Zeitz

Jochen Zeitz, co-founder and co-chair of Zeitz MOCAA, is a German business entrepreneur, philanthropist and former CEO of Puma. Zeitz has also opened a nature retreat and luxury eco-safari resort in Kenya. “We wanted the museum to be as representative of Africa as possible. Most importantly, this is an institution for all of Africa,” he says.


David Green
David Green

David Green, CEO of the V&A Waterfront and co-chair of Zeitz MOCAA, has overseen consistent growth and investment into the infrastructure of the popular waterfront district, including the new museum. Green is also chair of the neighbouring Two Oceans Aquarium and the director of Western Cape Development Board (WESGRO).


Mark Coetzee
Mark Coetzee

Mark Coetzee is executive director and chief curator at Zeitz MOCAA. Coetzee has published numerous articles on art and artist monographs. “Standing at the opening of the Zeitz MOCAA is somewhat surreal,” he says. “It’s been a long journey, but we’re delighted we’ve been able to create a platform of such scale and influence for Africa.”


Thomas Heatherwick
Thomas Heatherwick

Thomas Heatherwick is a British designer and architect who founded Heatherwick Studio in 1994. Based in London, Heatherwick Studio’s 200-strong team is well known for creating projects such as the London Olympic torch, the UK Pavilion for 2010’s Shanghai Expo, the Bombay Sapphire Distillery, London’s Routemaster bus and upcoming projects for Google.


• 116 vertical tubes
• 42 concrete silos
• 100 galleries
• 9,500sqm museum
• 6,000sqm exhibition space
• R500m budget ($40m, £30m, €34m)
• 40,000 tons of grain were stored there
• R180 adult ticket ($13, £10, €11)

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company profile
Company profile: Willmott Dixon
Willmott Dixon delivers the social infrastructure that people depend on in their daily lives. We partner with our customers to focus on the services they want to provide, not just the building we construct, and we are committed to achieving a higher social purpose through our work.
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