By Kate Abildgaard
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Tate Modern Switch House

This article is over 7 years, 9 months old
Issue 415

The new extension to Tate Modern is an art world success story. Expansion was always part of the project, but visitor numbers have been more than double expectations since the museum first opened 16 years ago.

Director Nicholas Serota brought forward his plans and reunited with Swiss architects Herzog & de Meuron, responsible for the original Tate Modern development, to add 60 percent more space, 45 percent of which is dedicated to showing art. The remaining space will be used for educational areas, shops, cafes and restaurants, becoming a public space for those who consume culture as opposed to the consumer culture of the shopping mall.

The Switch House opened to the public in June.

The original collection was founded by sugar merchant Henry Tate. He was 14 when slavery — which underpinned the fabulously successful sugar trade — was abolished in Britain. Henry introduced the “white cube” to Britain when he obtained a patent for sugar cubes and he became a rich man.

What is now Tate Britain opened in 1897. In 1988 Tate opened a gallery on Liverpool’s former dockside, followed by St Ives in Cornwall in 1993 and then Tate Modern in 2000.

It occupies the site of Bankside Power Station which was opened in 1952 and operated by the Central Electricity Generating Board until 1981. The origins of the site are evident in the names of the present museum, the main building being the Boiler House and the new addition the Switch House. Bankside was oil fired and the space that the tanks once took form the lower ground floor of the new building.

As it is, London now has a new landmark building, which references I M Pei’s postmodern pyramid at the Louvre in Paris, Daniel Libeskind’s deconstructivism and Renzo Piano’s Shard, Tate Modern’s tall slender Southwark neighbour.

Unlike the Louvre or the Shard, the Switch House is not covered in glass. Instead the architects teamed up with structural engineers Ramboll to sheath the complex geometry in continuous brickwork, so using the material of the original building in an undulating counterpoint to Scott’s rectilinear forms.

Tate Modern’s present director, Frances Morris, intends the new building to make modern art more accessible to modern audiences. She plans to introduce more interactive projects and make the collection more international in scope.

The institution has a longstanding ambition to begin redressing the gender imbalance in art and this summer’s blockbuster exhibition brings us works by American modernist painter Georgia O’Keeffe.

There is much culture to be consumed from the Tate menu of events which continues to make this artworld brand so successful.

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