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Tate Modern - Reinventing a power plant (Essay)

Tate Modern - Reinventing a power plant (Essay)

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Published by Joakim Paz
Essay about Tate Modern Gallery - London
Essay about Tate Modern Gallery - London

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Published by: Joakim Paz on Dec 23, 2008
Copyright:Attribution Non-commercial


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Reinventing a Power Plant
Tate Modern
is Britain’s national museum of modern art in LondonThe building which since 2000 it has been the Tate Modern gallery is located on the south bank of the Thamesin the Bankside district of London is a remarkable, powerful and dramatic combination of old and the newarchitecture providing 10,000m
of gallery space. It is housed in the former Bankside Power Station which wasoriginally designed by Sir Giles Gilbert Scott.Sir 
Giles Gilbert Scott
(November,9 ,1880—February 8, 1960) was an english architect also known for hiswork on such buildings as Liverpool Cathedral, a matching library for the University of Cambridge and thefamous British red telephone box. He came from a family of famous architects, being the son of George GilbertScott (junior), grandson of Sir George Gilber Scott, nephew of John Oldrid Scott, and brother of Adrian Gilber Scott. He is also the father of architect Richard Gilbert Scott. Scott was noted for his blending of Gothictradition with modernism, making what might have been functionally designed buildings into populalandmarks.The London Power Company had commissioned a new electricity generating station at Battersea and in 1930commissioned Scott as a consultant to make the inevitably massive architecture more appealing. Scott choseexternal bricks and put some detailing on the sheer walls, then remodelled the four corner chimneys so that theyresembled classical columns. Battersea Pwer Station, completed in 1933 but disused since 1982, remains one of the most conspicuous industrial buildings in London.The building is brick-clad steel structure, 200 m long, constructedfrom more than 4.2 million bricks, with a substantial centralchimney of 99 m. The height of the central chimney was limited tothis height in order to be lower than the dome of St Paul's Cathedralon the opposite side of the river.The station was commissioned following a power shortage in 1947and Scott's design was completed and accepted within a year,despite strong local opposition.Construction work was in two phases and was not completed until1963. The western portion of the building was completed first andstarted generating power in 1952. The final structure roughlydivided the building into three - the huge main turbine hall in thecentre, with the smaller boiler room to one side and the switchingroom to the other. The oil-fired station had four generators. Risingoil prices made the station uneconomic, resulting in its closure in1981.For many years Bankside Power station was at great risk of beingdemolished by developers. Many people campaigned for the building to be saved and put forward suggestions for possible newuses. An application to list the building was refused.In the spring of 1993 the building's fate looked doomed, contractors had already knocked a large hole in theside of the building and started removing much of the redundant plant. The BBC television programme 'Onefoot in the Past' focused on the building's impending threat. The reporter Dan Cruikshank gave an impassioned plea for the building to be saved.In April 1994 the Tate Gallery announced that Bankside would be the home for the new Tate Modern. In July of the same year an international competition was launched to select an architect for the new gallery. In January1995 Jacques Herzog and Pierre de Meuron of Herzog & de Meuron were announced as the winning architects.
Herzog & de Meuron
is a Swiss architect firm with an international reputation, founded in 1978. HdeM's earlyworks were reductivist pieces of modernity that registered on the same level as the minimalist art. However,their recent work at Tokyo, Barcelona and Beijing Olympics Stadium suggest a change of attitude.Though their commitment to the primacy of materiality shows through all their projects, the manipulation of form has gone from boxy “modernism” to volumetric prisms of equal if not greater presence.The architectsoften cite Joseph Beyus as an enduring artistic inspiration and collaborate with different artists on eacharchitectural project. Their success can be attributed to their skills in revealing unfamiliar or unknownrelationships through familiar materials.The £134 million conversion to the Tate Modern started in June 1995 with the removal of the remainingredundant plant. The conversion was completed in January 2000. The most obvious external change is the blocky two-story glass extension on one half of the roof. Much of the internal structure remains, including thecavernous main turbine hall, which retains the overhead travelling crane. A substation is still on site.Scott's other London power station is atBattersea and is widely considered amore iconic design, with its four towers.Battersea Power Station was proposedfor the Tate Modern but due to financialconstraints and less dilapidation thesmaller Bankside building was chosen.As a building, the Tate Gallery onMillbank has not been much admired, 'anunfortunate choice', observed NikolausPevsner of its nineteenth-centuryarchitect, Sidney Smith. 'He used theaccepted Late Victorian grand manner  but neither with discretion nor withoriginality. In 1957 when Pevsner waswriting, the style was not one, in anycase, that commanded admiration. His views were echoed by fellow Modernists, but also by much more recentcritics.In March 2002, after a long gestation, the gallery was split into two. British art from 1500 to the present daystayed at Millbank in the renamed Tate Britain; international modern and contemporary collections weretransferred to Tate Modern on Bankside. Greatly acclaimed, this monument at the south end of the Foster bridgehas great public presence (unlike its counterpart facing the Thames with Smith's oddly proportioned andtentative Corinthian portico. But its inert interior with regimented galleries, incomprehensible circulation andsome dismal lighting, is dispiriting.Exactly the reverse is true of Tate Britain's interior. Order, grand airy galleries, changing volumes and quantitiesof natural light together create an infinitely more agreeable experience. This is particularly so since completionof new galleries and a new entrance by John Miller & Partners. The expansion, opening the Tate up to the west,aerates and discreetly modernizes the place -- adding greatly to its pleasure and civilization. Not least, it makesit possible to exhibit works from the reserve collections, hitherto stored away in vaults.Expansion by ad hoc stages has been typical of the Tate's history. Opened in 1897, it was designed by Smith tohouse the art collection of Sir Henry Tate, a nineteenth-century sugar magnate, and built on the site of theMillbank Penitentiary. Smith was followed in the early part of the twentieth century by W. H. Romaine Walker who designed galleries for the Dutch art dealer, Joseph Duveen, and, later, his son; and subsequently in 1937 bythe American classicist, John Russell Pope, responsible with Walker for the Duveen sculpture galleries whichmark the central axis running north from Smith's entrance rotunda through a domed octagon. The Tate's statusas a national gallery, as well as its neglect of modern continental art at this point, probably explained the choiceof architect. (Pope went on to design his great classical essay, the American National Gallery of Art inWashington.)

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