Before its relaunch in 2017, The Silo spent 80 years storing Cape Town’s wheat, playing a key role in the industrial and agricultural development of South Africa. After the building was bought by high-end hotel chain The Royal Portfolio, run by the Biden family, it was converted into the The Silo hotel, with the Zeitz Museum of Contemporary Art Africa (MOCAA) located underneath serving as a stunning home for the largest collection of contemporary African art in the world. The presence of the museum was always going to see some of its talent and creativity rub off on the hotel above. Indeed, The Silo exhibits a range of works by artists both established and emerging, as well as collaborating with private gallery The Vault, which showcases a new range of the most promising African art every six months. This extraordinary feat of architectural regeneration is the work of Heatherwick Studio, a team of 180 “problem solvers” based in London, who were picked by V&A Waterfront, the government-backed company that owns the area.
The project focused on preserving the value of this monumental, industrial structure, which was taken to the next level with the addition of huge, original windows. The windows bulge subtly outwards, creating the perfect counterweight to the cement structure. The effect is visually striking, especially at sunset, when the building catches the light and glows like a 57m lighthouse dominating the city.
“What interests us is designing places that have soul and embrace the complexity of real life,” explains Thomas Heatherwick. “For that reason, our starting point is always human experience rather than an abstract idea of design.” The Royal Portfolio owner Liz Biden personally – and meticulously – oversaw every detail of the internal spaces, which comprise the communal areas and 28 rooms spanning seven different categories, including a spectacular penthouse. She chose to contrast the crude exterior of the building with soft, inviting interiors. It is an eclectic style packed with international influences, gleaned from Biden’s extensive travels, mixed with industrial, artisanal and designer styles as well as plenty of local art. “It wasn’t easy to get the internal logistics of The Silo straight because of the size of the pre-existing goods lifts, which take up two massive vertical shafts, not to mention the square shape of every floor. It was a real challenge,” she admits.
Regardless, the puzzle has been well solved. We start with the lobby, on the ground floor, where the threshold between old and new is clearly visible, with industrial features contrasting with contemporary chandeliers by Haldane Martin, commissioned design pieces by Jody Paulsen, Frances Goodman and artwork by Mohau Modisakeng and Athi-Patra Ruga. The theme continues in the sixth-floor reception area, where original metal fittings used for sorting the grain coexists with weird and wonderful furniture and brightly coloured African art. Nothing has escaped Biden’s eye: she has used her sophisticated style to choose every single piece of furniture in the hotel: Ardmore Design fabric for the bed headboards, unique ceramic collections by The Potter’s Workshop, a charity project that supports local communities, soft Italian leather processed by local company Moorgas & Sons for the bar stools, circular candelabras by ADA Lighting and no less than 80 crystal candle holders made by hand in Egypt. “We’ve always wanted to open a hotel in our city,” explains Biden proudly. “The Silo is a very ambitious project.”