North entrance concourse
The north entrance is a space that is more than simply a zone of passage. Its sloping ceiling stretches out between two mighty architectural elements: the brick tower on one side and the turbine hall on the other. The glass shaft of the escalator is a body of light that suffuses floor and ceiling; it is akin to the light beam on the roof of the museum and the bay windows in the turbine hall.
The properties of this area, so close to one of the Tate Modern’s main entrances, make it an ideal and multipurpose exhibition space that is the perfect complement to the other galleries. It has therefore logically become the base camp of our exhibition.
Ordinarily, in exhibitions of architecture, the buildings themselves are absent and therefore communicated by proxy in models, plans, films and other documents. This time the building in question is present and can be fully experienced in all its sensuality. Instead of plans and documents, the building itself is on view. The exhibition is designed as a stroll in and around the building with fourteen stations and one base camp. Here in the base camp, a large architectural model of the Tate Modern, a projection and statements by the architects introduce the project and place it within the framework of Herzog & de Meuron’s oeuvre as a whole. The stations in and around the building are located in places that typify a specific characteristic or feature of the architecture.
It is exciting for us to deal with existing structures because the attendant constraints demand a very different kind of creative energy. In the future this will be an increasingly important issue in European cities. You cannot always start from scratch. We think this is the challenge of the Tate Modern as a hybrid of tradition, Art Deco and super modernism: it is a contemporary building, a building for everybody, a building of the 21st century.
And when you don’t start from scratch, you need specific architectural strategies that are not primarily motivated by taste or stylistic preferences. Such preferences tend to exclude rather than include something. Our strategy was to accept the physical power of Bankside’s massive mountain-like brick building and to even enhance it rather than breaking it or trying to diminish it.
This is a kind of Aikido strategy where you use your enemy’s energy for your own purposes. Instead of fighting it you take all the energy and shape it in an unexpected and new way.
The ramp is one of the main architectural modifications involved in converting this industrial building, once closed to the public, into a museum that daily attracts thousands of visitors. Already outside the building the ramp begins to descend into the ground so that visitors immediately recognize it as the west-side entrance.
The ramp is not only an entrance but a prominent meeting point, like the tower to the north and the gate to the south, which will be opened to the public in a later building phase. The location acts as a meeting point due to an architectural strategy which does not treat the gigantic complex, originally built by Giles Gilbert Scott, as a closed shell, but has instead transformed it into a landscape with different topographies that visitors can approach and use from all four directions. The ramp, as one of these topographies, takes visitors down to the base level of the building, the floor of the turbine hall, situated below the water level of the Thames.
The turbine hall is the area that establishes the link between inside and outside. The hall runs like a street through the entire length and height of the building. The new façade of the museum rises to the left, revealing its interior structure at a single glance: entrance, shop, cafeteria, educational facilities, auditorium, concourses and exhibition spaces. The façade on the other side is not see-through at present; the rooms behind them will be made accessible in a later building phase.
The power station, as designed by Giles Gilbert Scott, was organized in three parallel spaces, each of which served a specific function. The boiler house was installed to the north facing the Thames, the huge turbines were placed in the middle, and the switch house lay to the south. The latter still contains switching stations today, which have been supplied with electricity produced outside London since 1982, when the power station was decommissioned. In a later building phase, the switch house will also be incorporated in the new museum complex. The window affords a view of the room under the transformers, which is presently in disuse. Probably the most dramatic spatial composition in the former power station lies directly behind this room. It consists of three cylindrical spaces, arranged like a three-leaf clover, which once housed the oil tanks. This spatial composition will one day be accessed directly from the garden opposite to the south. The ground-level rooms, now containing the transformers, will be directly related to the gardens. These rooms and the floors above them could, for example, house a Department of Design and Architecture, a library or other exhibition spaces and seminar rooms. Upon completion of the second building phase, the turbine hall will reveal its full potential as a covered street. The soft hum of the ventilation, now required to cool the transformers, will then be eliminated.
The platform is a remnant of the flooring that once stretched the entire length of the turbine hall. The removal of this flooring allows visitors to experience the extraordinary scale and dimensions of the turbine hall in their entirety. Today the platform is like a bridge between the former boiler house to the north, containing the galleries, and the switch house to the south, which will be converted into additional exhibition space in a second building phase.
The platform is conceived not only as a bridge between two wings of the building but also as an instrument that explicitly and effectively addresses the urban surroundings. The promenade along the Thames moves straight into the centre of the Tate Modern through the north entrance. From there, the path will cross the platform, pass through the gate to the switch house, and lead to the new Tate Garden to the south and on to Southwark.
This makes the platform an important crossroads not only for the building itself but for the entire neighborhood as well. The platform is a piece of urban topography and therefore also a suitable meeting point, like the ramp to the west of the turbine hall.
The Turbine Hall
From the platform, visitors look out over the vast space of the turbine hall. Like a covered plaza or galleria, it is open to everyone – to people who have come in order to visit the galleries or to take a look at the semi-annual installations created by artists specifically for this space or to simply share in the lively atmosphere.
The façade of the actual museum rises on the north side of the turbine hall. The new museum occupies the site of what was once an open-work steel structure with no floors or ceilings, in which countless boilers and other machines were installed. This steel structure has been replaced by the new, seven-storey museum. Its façade, adjoining the turbine hall, looks to visitors like a gigantic screen showing the Tate Modern’s varied programmed of events and exhibitions.
The bay windows, elongated glass bodies of light, afford an interior view of the museum and its exhibition activities. The bay windows are also architectural bodies that break up the mighty, vertical steel supports of the façade and generate an optical instability. Depending on lighting conditions, the brightly illuminated glass bodies may seem to be suspended in front of the façade, thereby clearly toning down the monumentality of the industrial architecture. The bay windows belong to the same architectural family as the light beam placed atop the heavy brick body of the former power station and visible from afar.
The stairway connecting all seven stories of the museum tract functionally complements the other two vertical transport systems: the lifts and the escalators.
However, it plays an entirely different role as well. The heavy steel construction with its flush, wooden handrail, its continuous band of light and its distinctively compact proportions adapted to human movement represents an independent piece of architecture. The balcony-like landings offer visitors surprising, unanticipated vistas and spatial impressions between the storeis. While travelling the stairs, one feels disengaged from the stream of museum-goers, the rhythm of one’s steps changes and slows down in response to the height of the treads and the placement of the landings.
The bay windows
The bay windows are self-contained, architectural spaces with more intimate proportions and a different scale than the adjacent concourses or galleries. They provide moments of rest and contemplation or merely a place to stop between gallery visits. They are also convenient meeting places as well as offering breathtaking views of the people and works of art in the turbine hall. Seen from the turbine hall, the bay windows look like floating bodies of light and also like vitrines with people sitting on benches, relaxing, waiting for someone or about to move on to the next exhibition.
The bay windows belong to the same architectural family as the light beam placed outside atop the heavy brick body of the former power station: a landmark visible from afar.
In gallery design there are two extremes: there is the highly specific gallery, which usually tends to be too spectacular, too sculptural, too individualistic, and there is the supermarket, developed to give good orientation and an overview that puts everything in the same light. We have tried to take the best things from both poles: from the supermarket and from a highly specific venue, like the Soane Museum.
Dimensions and scale
There are three floors of exhibition spaces, none of which is privileged. There is no main level with large, high rooms for monumental works, and a different storey for smaller formats, like photographs or drawings. All of the spaces are at least five meters high and some are significantly higher, like the top-lit galleries on the fifth floor and the double-height gallery on level 3, which raises the entire 12-metre length of the former cathedral window in Scott’s brick shell. This vertical room with its dramatic dimensions is not only an exciting experience for tired visitors; it also offers undreamt and unprecedented installation potential in a museum context.
The spatial variety is considerable; almost all of the rooms are different in size and proportion. In addition, walls can be added or removed at certain places, allowing dimensions and scale to be tailored to the needs of special installations. The construction of these temporary walls is no different from that of the other walls.
Lighting is a decisive factor in the perception of art works. Slightly different in every room, it alternates between daylight, artificial illumination and a mixture of both.
The artificial illumination comes from glass panels set flush with the ceiling; potential variations in adjusting the coloring and intensity are almost unlimited. This necessitates considerable machinery and technical facilities concealed above the plaster ceiling. Visible are only the light, the space and, above all, the works of art on display.
The natural illumination reveals the seasons of the year and the daily weather: sunshine, passing clouds or rain. The fenestration is defined by the immense cathedral windows, placed by Scott in the brick shell. The layout of floors and walls has been designed to establish direct contact between the gigantic windows and the galleries in order to provide an optimally self-evident, direct link between interior and exterior. In the rooms where the light comes in laterally through these wall-height windows, visitors can look out on the London backdrop and also get their bearings in relation to the building.
There are no lateral windows on level 5 since the floor lies above the cathedral windows. Daylight falls directly from above through glass panels placed flush with the plaster ceiling. They are almost identical to the glass panels for artificial lighting in the two floors below, so that visitors will barely notice the difference at first glance.
In the large and high central galleries on level 5, the walls end at the top in broad strips of glass so that the rooms are flooded with daylight. The light enters the exhibition spaces through the glass front of the light beam that can be seen from afar, hovering on top of the Tate Modern. Inside, visitors sense what the light is like outside as it comes in through the luminous opaque bands of glass without interfering with the perception of the works of art.
Although the galleries vary in size and proportion, they are basically uniform. They are all plain, rectangular rooms – ordinary and self-evident, on one hand, and yet of spectacular impact, on the other. The astonishing views of London are, of course, spectacular. But spectacular and unusual are also the radical simplicity and directness of the architectural measures that produce the impression of self-evidence. There are no connecting joints between walls and floors or floors and ceiling. The ceilings are flat and unarticulated. The oak floors are unfinished and add an unexpected sensuality to the rooms, while the dark concrete floor on level 5 forms an unaccustomed contrast with the works of art, especially those of classical Modernism. The cast-iron grids for ventilation, set into the flooring, look as if they were part of the former power station.
As a whole, one has the impression that the exhibitions spaces have always been there, like the brick façades, the chimney or the turbine hall. This impression is, of course, deceptive. In the interior of the building everything has been re-invented and re-conceived but the new and old building components have been interrelated and attuned to each other in such a way that they are indistinguishable. Something new has emerged that is more exciting than the pure preservation of a given structure and more complex than a completely new building.
The chimney performed an important function in the former power plant since all the flues from the boilers were gathered into it. The load-bearing structure of the chimney, centered on the boiler house side of the power station, is separate from the rest of the building. In a second building phase, the chimney will be converted into an observation tower with two staircases and two lifts. At a height of 93metres, it will afford a breathtaking view of all London.
Looking at the chimney from outside, one realizes that technical and functional requirements do not entirely explain its architecture. The chimney was primarily designed as an urban landmark that transcends exclusively functional purposes and enters into a dialogue with St. Paul’s on the opposite shore of the Thames. The vertical symmetry of the chimney is a direct response to the central dome of the cathedral.
The concourses on the exhibition floors are an important source of orientation. They provide views of the turbine hall through the bay windows; they house the vertical transport systems, the stairs and lifts; and they provide access to the individual galleries.
In keeping with their function, they are clearly set off from the galleries and designed as open spaces. The ventilation system, concealed above the plaster ceilings in the exhibitions spaces, is visible in the concourses, as if the ceiling had receded to open up the view overhead. Although the concourses are almost identical in size, they each have a character of their own. The concourse on the third floor hovers directly above the platform in the turbine hall. On the fourth floor, the concourse yields to the track for the crane, and on the fifth floor, part of the concourse ducks under the mighty steel beams of the turbine hall. The sweeping steps, which follow the rhythm of the ceiling, are an inviting place to stop and rest.
The view into the clerestory is a backstage view of the lighting facilities on the fifth level. The galleries on this floor lie above Scott’s huge cathedral windows so that daylight can be supplied only from above, via the light beam.
Conservation and the different needs of individual works of art call for maximum precision in lighting control. For this reason the glazing in the clerestory must satisfy certain requirements. It must be translucent to prevent direct sunlight and shadows, but without unduly reducing the intensity or distorting the color of the daylight. Two sets of blinds are installed between the panes of glass: one to adjust the intensity of the light, the other to darken the galleries completely.
The clerestory also provides artificial illumination; the lighting elements which have been installed are designed to duplicate the coloring of daylight.
The light beam
From the very beginning, when we first started thinking about the project during the competition in 1994, we entertained the idea of a huge body of light hovering above the heavy brick structure of the former power station. This body of light was to pour daylight into the galleries on the top floor of the museum and, at night, the direction of the artificial illumination would be reversed and magically shine into the London skies. The idea of the light beam proved to be a key element for the development of the other parts of the complex within the overall architectural and urban concept of the Tate Modern.
In terms of city planning, the conspicuously horizontal shape of the light beam forms a distinctive equipoise to the vertical thrust of the brick tower, designed by Giles Gilbert Scott as a counterpoint to St. Paul’s Cathedral just across the river. Scott’s intention of explicitly responding to Christopher Wren’s building has been accentuated and updated by the luminous beam of light. Like the cathedral, Bankside has now become a public site accessible to all of the people in this city.
Given the architectural strategy of transforming the Bankside Power Station into a landscape accessible and open to the public from all four directions, the gardens are important topographical sites that mediate between the space of the city and the building. The gardens blur the distinction between inside and outside. Thus the ramp on the west side is a salient feature of both the gardens in the West court as well as the turbine hall. The plaza that spreads out between the riverside promenade and the chimney extends into the turbine hall where it becomes the platform.
Bankside gardens (north)
The spacious Bankside Gardens are divided into three areas. A plaza is centered in front of the north entrance to the Tate Modern and framed by stands of birch trees. To the west the arboretum, a lawn dotted with groups of foreign birch trees, offers a site of rest and repose. The garden on the east side of the plaza, with its smaller groups of birches, forms the transition to the domestic scale of the adjoining buildings.
The gravel, used throughout as the ground covering, has been chosen to match the color of the brick façade of the building. Like different aggregate states, it may be loose, bonded, or rolled into the asphalt. The soft surface texture of the gravel links the plaza with the lawns and, at the same time, suggests an extension of the riverbank.
The groves of domestic birch trees resemble the wooded growth along riverbanks. But birches are also pioneer trees that thrive on fallow urban and industrial lands and therefore symbolize the transformation of abandoned terrain. The groups of foreign birches planted on the lawns challenge the accustomed image of this tree with their bark of different colors - snow white, salmon, grey or black.
The landscaping of the West Court mediates between the expansive, open area of the Bankside Gardens and the framed spaces of the South Terraces. The visitors' ramp leading into the turbine hall is placed in the centre. To the north, in front of the restaurant, outdoor seating on a stepped slope is marked by evenly planted groups of birches. The arrangement of these multi-stem trees is related to the groups of birches in the Bankside Gardens, while the single-stem birches to the south of the ramp reflect the single plantings in the South Terraces.
In contrast to the Bankside Gardens, which respond specifically to the expansiveness of the river, the South Terraces are divided into two clearly defined gardens surrounded by hedges. The introspective, contemplative character of these spaces invites visitors to rest or play. The hedges, consisting of coniferous yew trees, white flowering quince and white apple blossom shrubs, blossom at different times thereby are mirroring the seasons of the year. Old and new maples, linden trees and plane trees along the southern border along with the topographical design of the lawns heighten the spatial effect of the gardens. Thousands of yellow and white daffodils bloom on the lawns in spring. They are planted in squares, but this geometry will fade in years to come.
text: Herzog & de Meuron