Silo District hots up
The V&A Waterfront’s new precinct is shaping up as an inspiring hive of art, design and cultural history
Cape Town’s grain silos have been brilliantly reimagined as the iconic heart of a R2.5bn Waterfront development. This latest venture in the Waterfront’s valuable 123 hectares is on the East Quay side, near the Cape Grace Hotel and the Clock Tower — historic turf where the cannons of the Chavonnes Battery were placed in the 1700s to protect the little town. The imposing 42 silos were built in 1924 to store thousands of tonnes of grain for transport elsewhere, so they were located close to ships berthed at the Victoria Basin. Disused since 2001, the beautifully weathered maize-coloured columns are now the dramatic focal point of a complex of six new office and residential buildings that surround it, known as the Silo District. Big business has moved into the new block known as Silo 5, in the shape of Werksmans Attorneys and international accounting conglomerate PricewaterhouseCoopers. Across the square is the head office of Allan Gray investment company in Silo 1, a building whose sustainability feats include the ingenious use of icy Atlantic seawater in the cooling system.
Silos 2 and 3 are residential and Silo 4 houses Virgin Active. Silo 6 will house a Radisson Red hotel when it is completed in September. The Silo Hotel is already here, in the boxy grain lift section on top of the silos themselves. Its rooms are alive with designer colour and lined with pillowed floor-to-ceiling windows that have extraordinary views. But what is really making waves is now housed inside the silos — the biggest collection of post-2000 African art on the continent. It is the Zeitz Museum of Contemporary African Art, a non-profit public museum that opens on September 22. Collected by former Puma CEO Jochen Zeitz and displayed in nine floors of about 80 galleries, this is 21st century African art at its most progressive: installations, conceptualism, performances, films, photography and multimedia sculptural structures. It is aimed at challenging the viewer and all created by artists born in Africa or the diaspora — a platform for a previously neglected area that is now exploding and fetching high prices globally.
“The Silo Hotel is already here, in the boxy grain lift section on top of the silos themselves”
The silos revamp was tricky. It took four years and involved British design genius Thomas Heatherwick and his team, working with local partners. The huge, densely packed cylinders had none of the grand central spaces you find in most historic buildings. For the main museum hall they had to cleverly carve into these concrete tubes a central atrium that stretches up to a remote glass roof. It is an architectural masterpiece. As CEO of the V&A Waterfront David Green puts it: “Thomas Heatherwick understood how to interpret the industrial narrative of the building. His design respects its heritage. By preserving the silos as a centrepiece for the District and as a cultural institution, its character and personality will be honoured.”
HIGH-END SILO DESIGN STORES
Design is what GUILD at the base of Silo 5 is all about. This generous concept space includes a design store, an in-house range of furniture and the Southern Guild gallery, showcasing the work of major local names such as Gregor Jenkin, Cheick Diallo, Meyer von Wielligh, Conrad Hicks, John Vogel, Porky Hefer and the duo behind Dokter and Misses Adriaan Hugo and Katy Taplin. Southern Guild gallery founders Trevyn and Julian McGowan handpick their creatives. “When designers are deeply involved in what they make — hands-on, immersed — a different kind of work emerges,” says Trevyn. “The distance becomes greater between what is a result of process, intimacy and narrative and what is rapidly made, mass-produced or machine-led.” She regards the Silo District as “an incredible hub — residential, commercial, cultural, historical, architectural — centred around a monumental museum championing African creativity”.
“When designers are deeply involved in what they make — hands-on, immersed — a different kind of work emerges” – Trevyn McGowan, co-founder, Southern Guild gallery
Kirsten Goss This busy South African jewellery designer didn’t want to miss the opportunity either. “Zeitz Mocaa is a seminal bit of-architecture,” she says. The store in Silo 5 is her fifth in SA. Its luminous space-age decor created by Johannesburg-based HK Studio is as stylishly playful as the necklaces, earrings and new range of diamond rings Goss produces with her Durban-based team. Kat van Duinen Another chic dynamo in Silo 5 is Polish-born fashion designer Kat van Duinen. She calls it “a dream come true”. Known since 2010 for her signature leather handbags and evening designs in sensuous satiny fabrics and jewelled colours, she and interior designer Ivan Peens have created an elegant feel for her boutique. Drapes are velvet, while covering the wall behind Kat’s flirty ruffles a striking oil by her artist husband John Kelly Gough depicts a glowing nude figure stretching out of the dark.
Glasshouse Rejuvenation Men are catered for here. A grooming emporium in Silo 5 titillatingly titled Glasshouse Rejuvenation for Men takes the concept of metro-sexuality to heroic new levels. In reassuringly masculine but luxurious surroundings — black leather and Nguni cowhide — guys can have their faces wet-shaved, their teeth whitened, and their bodies waxed, bronzed and massaged, all while watching sport and drinking beer. Lindt chocolate Lindt’s shop in Silo 2 is the place to indulge your chocolate obsessions. Lindt’s studio workshops are great places for team building or birthday parties. Opus flower shop Specialising in botanical installations, Marissa Pretorius is behind the Opus flower shop in Silo 3. Visitors can browse her signature potless gardens inspired by kokedama (Japanese moss balls) suspended from the ceiling, or select fresh flowers and gifts. UpCycles rentals Work off all those chocolate truffles by renting a bicycle at UpCycles in Silo 5, Cape Town’s first drop-and-go bike rental company. It now has stations at the Sea Point Pavilion, the Promenade and Mandela Rhodes Place in the CBD.
Credits: Photos: Supplied, Text: Hilary Prendini Toffoli