The new addition to Tate Modern is a building that attracted the attention of the general public before it was even built. After all since its opening in 2000, Tate Modern has been one of the most visited tourist sites in London. The reason for its success is a combination of factors. Its location, its status in the world of art and without a doubt its architecture as well. Herzog and de Meuron did, back then an undeniably good job with it.
At a time when industrial relics and retrofuturism was just getting to be fashionable they renovated an existing building, previously a power station and turned it to the hugely famous Tate Modern. The brick bulk, the landmark chimney and the cathedral-like Turbine hall compel the visitor immediately. A composition which demonstrates the importance in the simplicity of straightforward architectural gestures. What could the architects come up with that would be equally strong?
The obvious answer would be at least externally an equally bulky and strict building. So the quasi-pyramidal shape that we watched rise for a few years, was a rather logical decision for a form. It makes me think a bit of children’s blocks and their basic shapes, the rectangle, the pyramid the sphere.
As a first impression though, the outside of the new building is not as interesting as the interior spaces that it encloses. I am not sure why; Is it maybe because the sequel is never as good as the original? The one good thing that I had to give to this building is that somehow it manages to hide its scale; it seems smaller than it is. When I got myself all the way up to the viewing terrace I realised how high it was because one sees the old Tate modern’s roof from above. This is still a sort of an optical illusion because in my memory the original building seems taller, when actually it is not.
Entering the new building from its own entrance on Sumner St. the visitor goes past the restaurant to the left and then has a choice, either take a staircase going down towards The Tanks, the basement part of the building that was first opened a few years back, or go up towards the new galleries. The staircases are beautiful, the detailing is impeccable throughout the interior spaces and has a clean slick feel to it. Beautifully finished concrete with no visible paint and simple black metallic rails.
The route of the visitor is really thought-out well. There are surprises all the way up, little sitting corners, seemingly randomly shaped windows and views as you wind yourself up. Circular stairs, straight stairs design details, inviting corners to sit or balconies one can look over to a foyer at a floor beneath.
Also the way the two buildings are connected, at three levels with the turbine hall on level 0 and then two bridges, one on level 1 and another one on level 4 also enrich the experience and broaden the choices of how to move inside the galleries.
Walking through this building though, interesting as it was, had a negative side to it too. Gallery spaces, which by nature are more introvert in order for the visitor to focus on the art on display were too generic and also felt slightly claustrophobic. The spaces that link them, foyers, staircases and such are much more interesting to walk through.
These connecting spaces had a very weird quality to them as well, the strong voyeuristic character of their windows.
The last 17 years that Tate Modern has existed in this location and as its importance and status increased, so did the value of the land around it.
New housing developments popped up which are mainly luxury apartments. Most of these buildings with their often wall-to-wall curtain windows wide open to the Tate, pose an interesting contradiction. A large display of design furniture and art visibly showing off their status, while at the same time signs everywhere inside the Tate ask us the visitors, to please respect the neighbours privacy.
I thought those signs to be very ironic. It is the contradiction of our way of lives really, obsessed with selfies in an ongoing struggle to show off and attract attention. Only to claim retrospectively false modesty along with the request towards the spectator to look elsewhere. Capitalist exhibitionism in denial is what it felt I was observing. And strangely this stayed with me more than the crisply detailed new building.