Expat Living’s Lara Sage explores an old Cape Town landmark that has been transformed into a cool new boutique hotel and a city icon. It’s just one more reason why this is one of the “must-visit” cities of the world.
A boutique hotel right on the waterfront
The recent re-invention of the disused Silo building in South Africa’s second biggest city, Cape Town, is a feat of architectural genius. Imagine 42 vertical tubes of a derelict grain storage complex converted into a world-famous art gallery with a decadent hotel perched on top. It’s now as synonymous with the city’s skyline as the Eiffel Tower is with Paris or Marina Bay Sands is in Singapore.
Sitting where the skirt of Table Mountain meets the sea at the V&A Waterfront, the Silo was built in 1921 as an industrial harbour facility for exporting grain. It was then the tallest building (57m) in Sub-Saharan Africa. With the advent of modern shipping, it had become redundant by 2001 and sat deteriorating in the city’s vibrant leisure quarter.
Authorities determined that the area needed more cultural spaces, coincidentally at the time that the Zeitz Foundation was looking for a permanent public home for its world-class art collection. So, a collaboration began.
Above a world-class art gallery
Opinion always varies on contemporary art, which is so often intended to strike a chord. The Zeitz Museum of Contemporary Art Africa (Zeitz MOCAA) is no exception, and deserves a visit so you can decide for yourself. Occupying the bottom nine floors of the Silo building, the gallery houses permanent and visiting exhibitions, representing each of Africa’s 54 countries, And, with so much plundering of valuable resources in the continent’s history, it’s no surprise that many of the artworks here express this emotive topic.
A design masterpiece
The renovated façade was masterminded by renowned industrial designer Thomas Heatherwick who decided to celebrate the building’s “tube-iness”, and to highlight the raw beauty of the original concrete. Advanced concrete cutting techniques allowed a large single interior void to be created, with original chains, piping and heavy machinery artfully incorporated into the refurbishment.
The Silo Hotel sits in what used to be the elevator of the historic grain silo complex, and occupies the upper six floors above the Zeitz MOCAA. The impressive installation of 82 pillowed glass windows bulges outward as if inflated. From within the hotel rooms, these geometric panels offer a unique view over the expanse of the property and the city beyond; and a 360-degree panorama can be enjoyed from the rooftop, with its glass-sided pool.
Luxurious and inspiring
Part of The Royal Portfolio, this is a luxurious and inspiring hotel, featuring bold colours, striking artworks, plush fabrics and grand chandeliers – all decorated by owner and hotelier Liz Biden in her trademark eclectic style. Over the years, Liz has acquired a collection of exquisite and unusual African art by both aspiring and established artists, and these are a feature of The Silo’s 28 rooms.
Our room showcased paintings by Sibley McAdam, a Zambia-born self-taught artist, whose work adopts aspects of surrealism and incorporates interesting characters. The hues complemented the yellow and mustard fabrics of our room beautifully. Other rooms might display everything from fine art to photography to mixed media pieces.
Since every room features different artworks, guests can enjoy an individualised experience wherever they stay. It also gives an added reason to return to this remarkable hotel and building.
A drive of less than an hour from The Silo will take you to two other Royal Portfolio properties in the region. Birkenhead House in Hermanus occupies an exhilarating cliff-top position overlooking a whale-watching bay. While La Residence in Franschhoek commands exquisite views of unspoilt rural surrounds on a working farm of vineyards, plum orchards and olive groves, against a spectacular mountain backdrop.
To find out more about The Royal Portfolio’s collection of boutique hotels and bespoke private residences, visit theroyalportfolio.com.
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This article first appeared in the December/January 2018/19 issue of Expat Living magazine. Subscribe now so you never miss an issue.