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Pillowed windows over Table Mountain

I grew up in the suburbs of Cape Town – in fact I was born there – so I was pleasantly surprised to see the reinvention of the historic Grain Silo at the V&A Waterfront in the city.

This landmark building has been out of action since 2001, but now plays host to a hotel in the top half – the grain elevator portion of the building. A collection of contemporary art will sit beneath in the storage silos.

The Silo Hotel opened a few weeks ago, and the Zeitz Museum of Contemporary Art Africa is set to open in September. It will be the first major museum in Africa dedicated to contemporary art.

What’s fascinating is that there’s no large open space within the building to use as an exhibition space, so some real creative thought had to go into creating room for a gallery.

The grain silo is made up of densely packed tubes. As Heatherwick Studio, the London-based firm of architects behind the project put it, “Rather than strip out the evidence of the building’s industrial heritage, we wanted to find a way to celebrate it. We could either fight a building made of concrete tubes or enjoy its tube-iness.”

The solution was to “carve out galleries and a central circulation space from the silos’ cellular concrete structure, creating a cathedral-like central atrium filled with light from a glass roof”.

From the outside, the most obvious change to the building is the windows. Glass panels bulge outwards like pillows, as if inflated. By night this turns the building into a glass lantern, looking down on the harbour.

It’s good to see old buildings being renovated and used creatively. Some concrete structures are downright ugly and only a few people mourn their loss. But others are part of the landscape and an impressive renovation like this can give them a new lease of life.

And even though I have family I can stay with in Cape Town, I wouldn’t mind spending a night or two in a hotel with a rooftop pool and a stunning view over Table Mountain!

If you have a project in mind – iconic or otherwise – let us know if we can help.

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