Tate Modern Extension

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Tate Modern Extension by Herzog and de Meuron

The Extension to the already expansive London Gallery, Tate Modern, opened to the public on the 17th of June. It has added around 60% of floor space and has had around a million visitors in its first month alone.

The gallery has been split into two new distinct sections with the original spaces at the front of the building being branded the ‘boiler house’ while the extension at the back is the ‘switch house’. The infamous turbine hall divides the two with a new bridge linking the Switch and Boiler Houses near its ceiling, offering you a different perspective on the Cathedral of Modernism below.

The Power station was designed by Sir Giles Gilbert Scot and closed in 1981. After a somewhat troubled conception Tate Modern’s conversion from Industrial building to one of London’s most popular attractions was completed in 2000. The Architects Herzog and de Meuron were not widely known at the time but their design was chosen for its simplicity and decision to keep the turbine hall as one large space with a series of ‘Light boxes’ built along one side to brighten the enormous space. Herzog and de Meuron went on to international success and acclaim working on projects including the Birds Nest stadium in Beijing. They have used a latticed brick facade to visually connect the extension to the original building and a striking and distinct pyramid shape which manages to both echo Gilbert Scots aesthetic while also appearing separate from it. Apparently the shape and scale were chosen in response to the shape of the plot and the height of the chimney. The building is said to glow through the latticework at night and I think the combination of being both distinct from but continuing the same visual language of the power station does work.

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Lattice work Brick facade

I went straight to the tenth floor viewing platform and worked my way down through the various spaces. The view from the top is panoramic although mostly obscured from the south by high rise flats who’s owners must find the millions of zoom lense wielding tourists a slight imposition. The three floors below are not gallery spaces but members only rooms and restaurants. Then there are a series of extremely large gallery spaces. Something here left me rather cold, the building itself is very striking, hard edged concrete runs through out combined with unvarnished floor boards and more natural materials. The concrete is covered in marks from the machinery that shaped it. All very stylish and impactful. But some of these large rooms feel somewhat overbearing. So very white and imposing with row upon row of harsh regimented office style lighting.

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Concrete halls of the the main staircase. The walls bear all the markings from their installation.

At the base of the building was my favourite section, the tanks. After the initial conversion sixteen years ago you could just see an enticing glimpse of the tanks through a small window in the turbine hall but now they have been realised as a stunning art space. There were three large tanks to the south of the building which must have been used as storage for the materials consumed at the power station. These have been converted into extremely exciting exhibition spaces which will predominantly be used for performance and interactive art. The section that connects the large round rooms resembles some kind of dystopian environment, with so much evidence still on show from the harsh previous existence as a coal driven power station. The winding staircase and other additions compliment this although I do wonder about the use of so much concrete. It is such a polluting material to use, all in the name of good design of course.

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The tanks

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