If ever there was a building that represents the Modernist, Brutalist architectural style of Britain in London it would be the Tate Modern. Built as the Bankside Power Station on the riverfront opposite London’s great St. Paul’s Cathedral, when it was finally completed it was likened to a Cathedral of Modernity and Electric Power. The lead Architect, Sir Giles Gilbert Scott came from a long line of Architects and was responsible for other iconic buildings such as Liverpool Cathedral, Waterloo Bridge, Battersea power station and even the iconic red telephone box. Although the original power station was a truly historic building, after many complaints about the increasing pollution, the rising of oil prices and the use of the station only during winter months throughout the 70’s, it was finally closed in 1981. There were many calls for the building to be listed but these were refused as the government wanted to redevelop or sell the land, however, despite being abandoned the Cathedral of Light refused to fall down.
By 1994 the building finally passed into the possession of Tate to begin its new life as a Cathedral for Modern Art. Nobody could have predicted the popularity of the Gallery. By 2004 plans were afoot to expand the museum space and the project for Switch House was born. Two large tanks at the South West corner were converted into display spaces used throughout 2012 but were then closed as the Switch House extension began directly above them. The Tanks and the new wing opened in June 2016, a ten story tower providing over 22,000 square meters of brutalist gallery space, education facilities, offices, catering and performance space.
When I first visited the extension I spent almost an hour just exploring the building itself, it was a beautiful lesson in how to make modernist strip lighting dance and play. The glorious staircase is a work of art and as the original plan had been for a glass only stepped pyramid it has been truly transformed by the incorporation of a brick lattice work twisting and sloping up the building. It means it stands out and instead of being just another giant glass house it is as much a piece of modern art as those that are contained within it. I think that Scott would have been much enamoured with the results, a true nod toward his use of brick that made him such an iconic British Architect.
Atop the tower is a viewing deck and café open to the public revealing not only the jumbled beauty of the London skyline but also the beauty of Tate Modern itself. I highly recommend a visit if not for the inspirational art held within spanning from the 18th century to the present day but also to glimpse British Architecture and its more recent inspiration at its most monumental.
Drummonds Design Diary by Senior Designer Tommy Bendall
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