Heatherwick Studio, the high-profile firm behind the Learning Hub and Vessel, recently took the wraps off a new £30 million (around US$40 million) museum in Cape Town, South Africa named the Zeitz Museum of Contemporary Art Africa (or Zeitz MOCAA). The ambitious project involved transforming an existing grain silo into the country's largest art museum.

Originally built in the 1920s on Cape Town's V&A Waterfront, the grain silo stored and graded corn from all over South Africa for decades. Following its decommissioning in the 1990s it sat unused until Heatherwick Studio turned it into the museum.

Though the concrete building looks like a single structure in the photo above, it actually comprised a grading tower and 42 individual concrete tubes inside. This posed a challenge for Heatherwick Studio: how do you convert all those tubes into spaces suitable for displaying art, while still retaining the character of the silo?

The answer turned out to be to carve out a large atrium and gallery spaces by cutting away large sections of the tubes. The grand cathedral-like atrium space offers access to the gallery floors that surround it, with a total of 6,000 sq m (64,583 sq ft) of exhibition space available.

"Realizing the concept of carved tubes was technically challenging," says Heatherwick Studio. "Modeled on a single grain of corn, the rounded shape was scaled up to fill the 27 meter [88 ft] high volume and then translated into thousands of coordinates, each defining a point within the silo's tubes. Mapped out physically with nails, the brittle concrete tubes only 170 mm [6.6-in] thick were then lined with partial inner sleeves of reinforced concrete."

Once thus carved, the tubes were polished in places and capped with fritted laminated glass to increase daylight in the atrium. In addition, as the proportions of the tower portion of the silo made it unsuitable for exhibition space, the design team added glazing inspired by the bulging glazed texture of a Venetian lamp. According to the firm, it acts something like an oversized lantern for the harbor and Cape Town at night.

With the Garden Bridge project being scrapped and reports that Pier 55 is likely cancelled too, it's good to see Heatherwick Studio in the news for positive reasons and this one really does look quite special.

Head to the gallery for a look at a small selection of the African art installed in the Zeitz MOCAA.

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