Re-imagining our industrial heritage

Silo conversions for elite but also sustainable projects

by Malcolm Clark
6 Love 7159 Visits

With the decline in the manufacturing industry, especially in the west, comes the great problem of what has to be done with the “leftovers” of the industrial age. Often the industrial heritage dates back one hundred years or more and the buildings, which may once have been considered an eye-sore, could have become of “Special Architectural or Historic Interest”. While this can make redevelopment slower, it often leads to the creation of a much more prestigious final product.

Wilkinson Eyre Architects' Battersea Power Station redevelopment in London is a prime example of this. It was recently announced that the first apartments will go on sale in May and a rush is expected for flats giving an unprecedented view of London, despite costs reportedly up to £30 million for penthouses!

The prospective view from one of the Penthouse apartments

Industrial heritage, can however, be less iconic than this functional Art Deco masterpiece and in these cases the industrial building can be incorporated into the conversion and partially hidden, so that the history of the site can still be read while giving it a new function.

Silo conversions have been undertaken around the world; apartments, hotels, student residences and even single home dwellings have been built out of converted silos that once accommodated anything from grain to nuclear missiles.

C. F. Møller Architects' conversion of unused silos called Siloetten / The Sil(o)houette in the Danish town of Løgten north of Aarhus employs the actual silo to contain staircases and lifts and it also provides the base of a common roof terrace.

Siloetten - before

The silo, in this case, while not being particularly “eye-catching” is left visible to retain the history of the site, while the apartments protrude like striking “lego bricks”.

Denmark, in this case Copenhagen, is also home to another silo conversion, although here architects MVRDV had little need to hide the original grain silos.

First of all Gemini Residence is located in the former harbour area, which all around Europe is becoming prime development space for quality housing (you can look no further than the London docklands for proof of this) and secondly the characteristic circular shape of the two silos gives them a magnetizing appearance.

The Aalborg project

CF Moller also have plans for a waterfront redevelopment. On the back of the success of their Siloetten project, the architects plan a similar redevelopment of the former industrial harbour Østre Havn in Aalborg to transform it into a new neighbourhood, combining the area's raw industrial identity with a new housing and shopping area.The idea is to maintain part of the silo plant - namely the basic structure and the highest of the original nine silos - adding 12 new residential storeys, with approximately 70 apartments.

V&A Silo complex today

News of another waterfront silo conversion project has just been announced in Cape Town in South Africa. London 2012 Olympic architect Thomas Heatherwick was asked to re-imagine the grain silo complex at the V&A waterfront to create a showcase for the most extensive and representative collection of contemporary art from Africa, the Zeitz collection.

Heatherwick's vision

The brief for Heatherwick's architectural intervention for the Zeitz Museum of Contemporary Art Africa was for it to be inspired by its own historical character. Therefore, he has chosen to respect the heritage of the building with the real revolution going on inside.

The interior showing the galleries and the atrium

This building, unlike lots of other industrial architecture like warehouses and factories, has no large open spaces so the challenge was to make the cell-like spaces created by the forty‐two vertical concrete tubes into museum galleries. Heatherwick's design achieves this by carving 80 galleries from the tubes and cutting a cross-section out of 8 of the central ones to create the circulation space, which is surrounded overhead and on the sides by concrete shafts. This atrium receives natural light coming in through a glass roof.

However, silo conversions are not limited to creating quality elite housing or a home for a philanthropist's art collection.

Indeed just down the road (well actually 1400 km down the road) in Johannesburg, an entrepreneur, Paul Lapham, the CEO of Citiq, a property investment and management company, has transformed the iconic silos in Newtown into safe, clean and affordable rental accommodation for students. His company's self-proclaimed aim is “to be the best provider of entry level residential property in South Africa that is affordable, secure and convenient.” Over the past 12 months, the construction site has been generating both interest and criticism. This unusual project called Mill Junction Student Accommodation, provides 10 floors of accommodation created in the former grain silos with another 4 floors created by piling shipping containers on top of it.

The interior of one of the apartments

“Now complete the 14 storey building towers over Newtown and is proof of what can be achieved through creative design and leading edge architecture. We challenged our design team to be creative and innovative with the space, and they have surpassed all expectations,”  says Paul Lapham.

Citiq already has plans for other development of student housing in the Newtown precinct with the Grand Silos. Construction is expected to commence once plans have been approved by the Council. They are also looking into projects in a number of other areas too.

    Battersea Power Station 78

    Battersea Power Station

    London / United Kingdom / 2022

    Siloetten / The Sil(o)houette 8

    Siloetten / The Sil(o)houette

    Aarhus / Denmark / 2010

    Gemini Residence 17

    Gemini Residence

    Copenhagen / Denmark / 2005

    Zeitz MoCAA - Museum of Contemporary Art Africa 156

    Zeitz MoCAA - Museum of Contemporary Art Africa

    Cape Town / South Africa / 2017

    Mill Junction Student Accommodation 3

    Mill Junction Student Accommodation

    Johannesburg / South Africa / 2013