Tate Modern: A Transformation Story from Power Plant to Museum

Tate Modern, Picasso to John Everett Millais; is one of the most respected modern art museums, filled with works by a wide variety of artists from Duchamp to John Constable. As a matter of fact, there are precisely 77.295 works of art in this museum’s inventory. It is impossible to come across an art lover who has not heard of the Tate Modern before.

Although many of them are home to groundbreaking works in art history, the Tate Modern itself was not designed as a museum. The Tate Modern Museum, as we know it today, was a power station until it closed in 1981. Then it remained idle for many years. However, when the Herzog & de Meuron team won a contest held in 1995, the Tate Modern project has come to life.

Bankside Power Plant

Tate Modern museum was built in 1947 as Bankside Electric Station. Sir Giles Gilbert Scott, the power plant architect, used Art Deco details on the façade. Bankside Power Station, located on the south bank of the River Thames, was in harmony with London’s fabric at that time and was continually generating electricity. However, this situation did not last long. The power plant stopped its production in 1981. It remained closed until 1995 when Herzog & de Meuron company won the competition for re-functioning the structure.

Today’s Tate Modern

There was a reason why Herzog & de Meuron’s designs were chosen in the competition in 1995. This design was one of the other projects participating in the competition, which included the least intervention to the building’s historic facade. For this reason, Herzog & de Meuron’s project was chosen, and the first step towards the formation of Tate Modern was taken.

Brick sections on the building facade were left unchanged to protect both the building itself and the urban fabric. However, an important addition was made to the entrance. Semi-permeable panels, also referred to as “light beam set,” are among the essential elements that constitute the architectural character of Tate Modern today. These panels accentuate the brick exterior wall and reveal the contrast between historical and modern.

The interventions were kept to in minimum to preserve the original character of the building and the interior. However, some changes were necessary to turn a historical building originally designed for industrial purposes into an exhibition space suitable for visitors.

Considering the details such as human circulation, ventilation, and adding some spaces that are not in the original structure such as common areas, elevators, exhibition, and storage areas are among the difficulties of such re-functioning projects.

On the other hand, Herzog & de Meuron can successfully overcome these difficulties with the exhibition areas that progress in harmony with the building’s industrial character and the plans shaped accordingly.

Environmental Regulations

Herzog & de Meuron did not limit the building’s design while moving away from the Bankside Power Plant and fictionalizing the Tate Modern. While the plant and the surrounding land have initially been closed and more isolated, the architects chose to open this land to the city while designing the Tate Modern. Thus, the building’s fusion with the urban fabric has increased, and a museum has emerged in more interaction with people.

Tate Modern, with green areas, a transit route within the city, and contribution to London’s cultural life, is far from the cold and isolated places that come to mind at first when we think about the museums.

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