Migration to Cape Town’s V&A Waterfront’s Silo district is being led by pioneering women whose innovative offerings are setting the scene for a new vision.
Cape Town harbour is central to the city’s history, but for too long it has been cut off from the lives of its citizens. While the V&A Waterfront’s malls constitute connection of a kind, consumption is the focus and the story of the working harbour is veiled by the glamour of catamarans and tour boats.
Here, the blast of a fishing boat’s horn in the early hours, the ropes, nets, crates and trucks lining the wharf, and the constant activity of the workers are a welcome dose of provenance in an otherwise future-facing development.
No surprise then that at the forefront of the Silo district’s design plan, the development is about identity, context, experience and serving the people.
Central to it all was the restoration and alteration of the historic grain silo, with the buildings around it premised on community building and the creation of public space rather than on making a statement.
Architect Thomas Heatherwick’s transformation of the main silo building into the Zeitz Museum of Contemporary Art Africa is impressive to look at, but its more intangible role as an art museum and ‘place maker’ for the city is equally exciting. Especially as it will champion African art to a public all too accustomed to longing for elsewhere.
Given the precinct’s big-business dimension – could it also mean that creativity is taking its rightful place as a branch of our economy?
Yes, if The Guild Group has anything to do with it. Their multipurpose Silo space is a showcase of some of the finest African functional art, furniture and products. Here you’ll see collaborations between local and international designers in the gallery, find the perfect limited-edition table at the studio and shop for Comme des Garçons Play and Lukhanyo Mdingi’s take on ‘I love Cape Town’ T-shirts in the store.
Confidently placing African and global creative products alongside one another makes for a clever piece of paradigm shifting around the desirability, competitiveness and economic potential of local design – and a needed evolution of the all-or-nothing African design dialogue.
Animating the public realm is a big focus for the V&A Waterfront, which means that the space between museum, apartments, retailers, hotels and offices has been as carefully considered as the architecture and destination stores you’ll find there.
This is likely to be where the area is returned to the city, and where the interplay of all these elements and people effects a greater awareness through an enriching spatial narrative about who we are – past, present and future – and how we take our place in the world.
Another positive result of this visionary plan, and particularly its message, is that the majority of the precinct’s retail mix is under female leadership. Established businesses that have chosen not to have a huge footprint, such as The Guild Group, Glasshouse Rejuvenation, Opus, Kirsten Goss Jewellery, Kat van Duinen, The Yard and The Royal Portfolio.
Their power is of the purposeful, not dominating, variety. Viva!
From left: Abigail Bisogno, Carol Boag, Tammy Tinker, Amanda Dilima, Kirsten Goss, Kat van Duinen, Lezanne van Heerden, Liz Biden and Marissa Pretorius.
Acknowledgement House and Leisure, text Emma Wright, photo Antonia Steyn