The Tate Modern

July 7th, 2011


I spent this past weekend in London before traveling home to my native Minneapolis. On Saturday, I visited the Tate Modern, situated along the southern banks of the Thames in Southwark. I started the morning with 45 minute walk from my hostel, followed by a rest and a much needed coffee to accompany me while I sat on the end of an old pier converted for pedestrian use. A wharf nearby has been converted to quaint artist's shops and cafes, and although it is a great new use, I didn't see anything in the shops worth more than a glance; nothing innovative, but more on the lines of a craft fair at a small town festival. Regardless, the redevelopment has made for a welcoming tourist atmosphere and a nice side diversion from the pedestrian walk along the Thames. The whole experience made me nostalgic for the genuine art scene of my hometown Minneapolis. The redevelopment of the the northern portion of the Mississippi could get the world talking if we utilize our natural beauty of the land and avoid the generic cliché budget-cut layout that pleases everyone and no one at once. 


After pondering such things while watching the sun play on the water of the Thames, I headed back toward the Tate. The building housing the modern art collections was converted only in 2000, and displays recent art through the century before. Rather than constructing a modern monstrosity common to many art centers of the 1990s, the Tate chose instead to convert the former Bankside Power Station that had sat empty since its closure in 1982. Designed by architect Sir Giles Gilbert Scott, known for his design of the infamous red telephone boxes, the impressive and imposing structure had the presence of other landmarks of London, like St Paul's Cathedral, but the vocabulary of modernism. The iconic central chimney was deliberately constructed slightly shorter than the spire of St Paul's that sits directly across the Thames, now connected by the Millennium Bridge. Built of brick with a structural steel frame, the building was economical, functional and congruent with the historic urban fabric of London. It is this respect for the local building tradition that won the then little known Swiss architectural firm, Herzog and De Meuron, the bid for the conversion. Herzog and De Meuron have also been selected for the new addition, for which they once again saw the heritage and aesthetic value in brick construction as opposed to the popular synthetic and eye-catching cladding pleading for attention in cities around the world today. The new structure will not go unnoticed however, with its twisted geometries, perforated brick pattern and focus on interior stairways as not just transition spaces but areas to stop, sit and enjoy. With an eye toward sustainability, the new building will us 54% less energy and generate 44% less carbon than the current UK building regulations require. To read more, see live construction updates and hear Jacques Herzog talk about design, visit the Tate Modern website.

Caroline Engel for Danish Teak Classics  

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