HISTORY, ART AND THE HOTEL MEET AT THE SILO CAPE TOWN

Just as we are going headfirst into the dark, cold winter days in Europe, let us take you to the Southern Hemisphere. Summer is around the corner, days are getting longer and warmer, and in the case of South Africa, it’s less than four months until a major new hotel is set to make quite the entrance: The Silo Cape Town.

Its credentials are impressive: it will be housed within the walls of the historic grain silo building on Cape Town’s waterfront – the tallest building in sub-Saharan Africa when it opened in August 1924 (at a positively quaint height of 57m). After 80 years of service, it closed in 2001 and now, as part of the new silo precinct, it is being transformed by architect Thomas Heatherwick.

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You can spot the silos clearly in the rendering above, but the aerial view of the construction below gives an even better insight into what the building once was. Make note of the windows in the upper portion of the building in the rendering (where the 28 rooms and suites the hotel will have are located): they are no ordinary windows.

Benefiting from unusually high ceilings, all rooms and suites have “pillowed window bays”, which will “bulge outward as if gently inflated. By night, this will transform the building into a glowing lantern or beacon in the harbour”. The windows also make a dramatic appearance – along with the chandelier – in the 200m2/2,000sq ft penthouse bathroom.

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Rooms are designed by Liz Biden, who founded The Royal Portfolio – of which The Silo will be part – with her husband Phil. We caught up with Biden in Cape Town back in May, when she had this to say about the latest gem in The Royal Portfolio’s crown:

“We wanted to complete our circle, because we have a circle of properties in the African beach, a gourmet property and by the sea, and now we have city. Cape Town is also our hometown, so we’ve been looking for a property for 10 years and at last the right one has come up.

“It’s a very industrial building, and I’m going to put luxury into that industrial frame. I’m going to be true to the building and keep the building in its industrial form, and then I’m going to put all our colours and all my comfort into it. Our storeroom is packed! Now I’m starting to try and place it and go through each room with the colour schemes, so it’s a bit of a mixture. I always try and buy something when I see it, that I like, and store it, and I know one day I’ll have the right place for it. So I think it will end up being an interesting place to visit!

“I think the windows are the biggest feature of the hotel.  They are just floor-to-ceiling, with all this different faceted glass, so I think it’s going to be unique and I’m sure that’s my favourite. And of course the roof as well – we’ve got a glass swimming pool and a bar and restaurant. So I think that will be the place to be to see the whole of Cape Town. It’s going to be for the guests all day, I think, and from 5/6 in the evening we’ll invite others up to experience the sunset.

“Well definitely we try and make all of our properties feel like a home, so it’s much more personal than any big hotel. We’ll definitely have the same ethos, and we’re very strong with our purpose and values so will carry that through with all our new staff there. If you look at our staff, we’ve had all our GMs right from the beginning. Our staff become part of our family and they stay with us, and they grow up in our culture.”

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The lower stories of the building will be occupied by the Zeitz Museum of Contemporary Art Africa (MOCAA), which will “focus on collecting, preserving, researching, and exhibiting cutting edge contemporary art from Africa and its Diaspora” – and in Liz Biden’s words, “We’re definitely going to carry the art up into our hotel – that’s definitely featured from the museum, which will interest a lot of people”. While the hotel is opening on March 1st, the museum is due to open in September. This is where you’ll find this beautiful sculptural atrium, shaped like a grain in a nod to the building’s role in the industrial and agricultural development of the country.

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Wondering about rates? An entry-level Silo Room is listed from ZAR12,000 in low season – the South African Rand has seen some volatility recently, but currently that translates to a fairly substantial £700 / $880 a night.

[Renderings: The Silo Cape Town / Interview: Olivia Squire]

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Paul J DeVries
Paul J DeVries is a freelance travel writer and was previously a contributing editor for HotelChatter.com. Based in London, he knows the city's hotel scene inside out, while also covering the latest in destinations around the world. When not checking out a new hotel, he checks in on the airlines and inflight products that get you there.