We were trying to make a platform for Africa to tell its own story rather than have it told by institutions around the rest of the world, said Thomas Heatherwick.
His sentiment is a common one. With help from creatives at home and abroad, Africa is seeing a moment in which the continent’s stories are reaching the masses. For Heatherwick, the Zeitz Museum of Contemporary Art Africa was one such opportunity.
“I think it means something different than producing an art institution in a European context or even North American or Asian where there have been so many initiatives driving forward and creating spaces for artists to show their work,” he said, standing by the buildings massive atrium, which provides access to all of the exhibition spaces.
“Some of the most incredible work is being done on this continent [Africa] and it felt bonkers in a way that many of those artists have to relocate to other parts of the world or they’re sending their work there.”
Made by hollowing out the inside of a historic grain silo building at Cape Town’s V&A Waterfront, the Zeitz MOCAA’s 80 gallery spaces, hotel and restaurant all centre around its atrium, creating a spectacle that Heatherwick described as "the world's tubiest building".
The 27-metre-high structure is South Africa’s largest museum for contemporary African art but Heatherwick hopes this is only just the beginning.
“It’s kind of a first thing and I imagine in 20 to 30 years there will be hundreds throughout the continent,” he added.
The London designer’s recent visit to Cape Town marked his third appearance at the Design Indaba Festival. In 2014, he announced his inclusion in the Zeitz MOCAA build and this year, the museum announced that it would pay tribute to an important creative figure in South Africa, the late Hugh Masekela.
Heatherwick, though trained as a designer, has created a number of iconic projects including Singapore university building and a visitor centre for British gin brand Bombay Sapphire. His future projects include a green development in Shanghai and a giant, futuristic honeycomb structure for New York.