Re-purposing is on-trend. China’s Alila Yangshuo Hotel was a sugar mill. Amsterdam’s Conservatorium was a bank. The Inn at Cuckolds, in Maine, US, used to be a fog signal station and lighthouse keeper’s home.
Stockholm’s bijou Art Nouveau Miss Clara by Nobis hotel is a former 1910 private girls’ finishing school, while an abattoir and meat processing plant in Puerto Bories, south Chile, has been lovingly rendered into the award-winning and very luxurious Singular Patagonia Hotel.
Cape Town now boasts a five-star, $1,100-a-night, one-of-a-kind, very lavish grain silo.
The historic elevator tower has been re-contextualised as a rendezvous for people. A high society meeting point for human beings. Not maize. Industrial space has been personalised. People now pay rather than be paid to stay in it.
If you are a regular you can quite justifiably be called a cereal guest.
The 57-metre, 1921 elevator tower on Cape Town’s famous V&A waterfront used to be the tallest building in South Africa. It concentrated grain before being shipped abroad. It has been gutted and cored and become part of the Biden family’s prestigious ‘Royal Portfolio’, which also features the $2,200-a-night (including two game drives) Royal Malwane safari lodge in the Thornbush Private Game Reserve in the Great Kruger National Park, the $300-a-night beachfront Birkenhead House at Hermans, overlooking whale-friendly Walker Bay, the 30-acre, 16-suite $520 La Residence in Franschhoek in the Cape winelands and the exclusive four-bedroom penthouse $7,950 One Above, also in Cape Town.
Liz Biden has worked as a teacher, medical debt collector, lampshade maker and jewellery designer, DJ and waitress. She and husband Phil met at Cape Town University and worked at the Jenni Button fashion house before reinventing themselves within the hospitality industry.
And taking it to a higher level.
Grains are still South Africa’s major crop, accounting for over 60 per cent of land under cultivation. The first silo was built in Buffalo, New York, in 1843. Architect Le Corbusier called silos “the first fruits of the new age”.
The British-designed silo has 28 rooms, all with 5.5-metre geodesic windows offering multi-faceted XL views of the Mother City. You have to crane your head to see Robben Island but you can’t miss the Atlantic, Table Bay harbour, Lion’s Head, Signal and Table mountains.
Depending on how much jet lag you are suffering and how disoriented you are by sleep deprivation or how badly your meeting went, it’s easy inside to believe you have turned into a hybrid-human fly as seen in a David Connenberg film. The windows are one big panoramic compound.
But few guests grow wings, climb the walls, develop pronounced sugar cravings and rarely spit enzymes onto their meals to aid digestion.
The silo offers extreme, select, salubrious comfort. The Superior Deluxe Room 806 has a bathtub commanding an outlook ‘Instagrammably’ comparable with the best suites at Oberoi Amarvilas Agra, London’s Corinthia, Four Seasons Sydney, Paris’s Plaza Athenee and the Cavalieri, Rome.
However, even considerable height, privacy and tranquillity are not guaranteed. Seagulls are curious, voyeuristic creatures. But they screeched loudly and flew away when I disrobed for my bubble bath over Cape Town.
Located above the MOCAA Zeitz (Museum of Contemporary African Art), the Silo showcases art throughout the world throughout the hotel. Our room exhibited the works of Andrew Putter and his tribute to Dutch Hottentots Holland flower paintings, Zambian Sibley McAdam, Desiree Smith (Cock in Pink and Green) and Onion Ladies by Storm Thorgernon, who worked a lot with rock band Pink Floyd.
Sweat is a popular motif at the Silo. Not just in the gym working off a traditional Capetonian Sunday lunch, the fatally more-ish Rooftop Bar’s ‘poke bowls’, the indigenous dessert trolley, the sunset cocktails, white macaron and berry sorbet nibbles, the breakfast-time Healey’s cheddar soldiers and chef Veronica Canha-Hibbert’s duck fat fetish; but all round the hotel.
The walls of the hotel’s Granary Café wear ‘gold sweat prints’ created by local artist Carl Pierre Vermeulen. These are aimed to make us reflect on water shortages, droughts and our stressy, worked-up lives and how we have all somehow allowed anxiety to become a dominant condition and even the essence of humanity. It is all about the pressure we place ourselves unnecessarily under; how we live in a hurry; in a rush.
These meaningful messages you mull over while not perspiring very much over your complimentary en-suite Graham Beck MCC (Methode Cap Classique) champagne, a further flute of sparkling in the Willaston Bar, named after the first ship to carry away grain from the complex in 1924, and enjoying your cruelty-free Penhaligon’s Quercus products.
These observations on uptight modern society follow you into the uber-luxury spa. To shed the angst, alleviate environmental damage and relieve deep-seated tensions of earning enough money to afford The Silo, you can have a 14-carat-gold face mask, get smeared therapeutically in hydrolised silk and caviar algae and treat yourself to a golden millet scalp massage; re-hydrating with Okavango tea; or in the rooftop Infinity pool.
Soon your face and body glow in a way sorghum never did. The staff are the epitome of cool; especially Papy Yamba the doorman, black belt in martial arts, as well as front-house smiling hospitality.
He welcomes you to the latest crop of reinvented spaces whose staple is now busloads of tourists and business travellers.
But is the Silo that new? What hotel, after all, isn’t essentially a storage bin?
The Silo is wonderful but pricey. But far from seedy.
For reservations go to www.theroyalportfolio.com/thesilo or call +27 (0)21 671 5502. Room rates start at ZAR13,500 for a Silo Room and ZAR28,100 for a Family Suite (sleeps four). Rates include breakfast and admission to the Zeitz MOCAA museum.
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