The Cape Town grain elevator was originally built by the government in Table Bay Harbour over 90 years ago. In 1923 the South African Railways and Harbours Administration was given the task of building grain elevators in Cape Town and Durban. Farmers delivered grain into their local elevator, from where it was railed to port elevators in Cape Town and Durban for export. The last ship with grain was filmed in the harbour in 1995, this indicated that and this indicated that the grain elevator was nearing the end of its function.
The V&A Waterfront together with London-based Designer and Architect, Thomas Heatherwick conceptualized the transformation of the elevator into a state-of-the-art museum. They went through the trouble of revamping this building because of the cultural and heritage significance embodied in the elevator, and its unique architectural design. The museum was opened by Nobel Prize winner, Desmond Tutu who thanked the individuals initiated the project. It collects, preserves, researches and exhibit’s cutting-edge contemporary art from Africa and its diaspora. Over 500 million rands was spent on renovating the 57 meters tall structure which opened with 80 gallery spaces. Archaeological research combined with archival research revealed that the elevator was part of a “networked industrial landscape” of elevators that stretched more than 1,500 kilometres across the country.
The galleries and the cathedral-like atrium space at the centre of the museum have been literally carved from the silos’ dense cellular structure of forty-two tubes that pack the building. The development includes 6 000m² of exhibition space in 100 galleries, a rooftop sculpture garden, state of the art storage and conservation areas, a bookshop, a restaurant and bar, and various reading rooms. Zeitz MOCAA is claimed to be the first African institution to acknowledge new mediums through the establishment of different centres and institutes within the overall museum.