Tate Modern unveils extension plans
By Dominic Bradbury, Architecture critic
Last Updated: 2:50am BST 29/03/2007
Plans for a â€œspectacularâ€ new development at the Tate Modern have been approved.
The design for the Thames-side gallery, by the Swiss architects Herzog & de Meuron, was granted planning permission by Southwark council yesterday, a spokesman said.
An artist's impression of the Tate Modern extension
She added: â€œA spectacular new building will be created on the south side of the gallery to provide space for modern and contemporary art and enable Tate to enrich its programme by exploring new areas of contemporary visual culture. Facilities for young people will be central to the new development.â€
Sir Nicholas Serota, the director of Tate, said: â€œWe look forward to bringing to Southwark a landmark building for the 21st century.â€
There's no question that Swiss based practice Herzog de Meuron are one of the most imaginative and original design houses in the world. Their firm dictum that they should never repeat themselves has produced a wide variety of astonishing structures - from the Allianz Stadium in Munich that hosted the last World Cup to the striking new arena for the Beijing Olympics, currently under construction, which has been likened to a giant bird's nest.
One of their most popular successes is, of course, their conversion of Giles Gilbert Scott's disused Bankside Power Station, on the banks of the Thames in Southwark, into Tate Modern, which opened in May 2000. It has become the most popular modern art gallery in the world, with around four million visitors a year, leading to overcrowding at busy times.
Hence the new extension scheme, by the same architects, which will create 60 per cent more gallery space over ten floors, plus performance and installation spaces, bars and restaurants and new zones for education and learning.
Yet it seems a great surprise to me that Jacques Herzog and Pierre de Meuron's plans for the Tate Modern extension have passed through Southwark's planning process so smoothly. The design has been massively controversial, with many doubts expressed, particularly in the architectural press, about the integrity of the new building, which has been described as a series of tumbling glass boxes in a loose ziggurat or pyramid formation.
Not only have Herzog de Meuron produced a radical contrast to the hulking brick presence of the original power station, whose back it rests against and rises above, but have also produced their most formless building yet. It looks so ill-defined and lacking in beauty as to be confusing, visually messy and without any real sense of connection to the power station or the surrounding area.
There is a tendency in modern architecture to fluidity - a move away from right angles and straight lines - which is broadly to be welcomed. But with the Tate extension, Herzog de Meuron appear to be in the business of creating something that turns it back - literally as well as metaphorically - on the whole context of the original power station, the surrounding area and all their past work.
One can only hope that once the building is finished in 2012, at a total cost of around Â£215 million, we will find that Herzog de Meuron have pulled off another coup and convinced all of us doubting Thomases. Let us hope that our love affairs with both the Tate and one of the bravest teams in contemporary architecture will survive the new build. One way or another it will certainly be a landmark. Let us try to find faith enough to believe it will be for all the right reasons.