Tate Modern Switch House

Bold and beautiful, Switch House, Tate Modern's iconic new wing, is a welcome addition to London's South Bank 

BY DEE IVA

When London’s Tate Modern opened in 2000 on the South Bank of the Thames it was the talk of the town. Swiss architects Herzog & de Meuron transformed a derelict power station into the world’s most popular modern art gallery. Its sheer scale and industrial aesthetic was not only a perfect backdrop to the vast collection of contemporary artworks and high-profile exhibitions but also captured the late Nineties minimalist zeitgeist.

Now, 16 years later, Tate Modern has an exciting new extension that is bound to set tongues wagging again. With its twisted, angular shape and horizontal slashes for windows, the 10-storey, pyramid-like Switch House is a bold addition to the original gallery, increasing display space by 60 per cent. Launching on 17 June 2016, its unveiling will be accompanied by a total rehang of the gallery's international collection, including fresh acquisitions. 

ABOVE: The brutal, modernist style of the new Switch House complements the existing Tate Modern
ABOVE RIGHT: Sharp angles and horizontal lines bring a new architectural language to the South Bank
BELOW: Light filters through the lattice skin of bricks; snaking staircases, concrete and pale woods create airy industrial spaces within

Set above the underground tanks once used to store oil for the original power station, Herzog and de Meuron's new baby is the most important cultural building to open in London in almost 20 years. Its size and unusual torqued shape has already divided opinion with descriptions ranging from beautiful to brutalist. Using polished concrete, pale wooden floors, exposed girders and snaking staircases, the Switch House continues Tate Modern's industrial vibe but its most striking feature is the ingenious external perforated lattice of 336,000 bricks which allows light to filter through in the day and seep out at night. Three floors of galleries are accompanied by a restaurant, members' room and rooftop terrace offering panoramic 360-degree views over London. And the old subterranean tanks, each measuring over 30 metres across and seven metres high, have now been revamped as The Tanks to house live performances, interactive art and video installations.

With the Design Museum due to move from Shad Thames to the former Commonwealth Institute in Kensington later this year – closing on 30 June and reopening on 24 November – the capital's art and design scene will soon be graced by two spectacular pieces of publicly accessible architecture that can hold their own on the international stage. It's proof of just how important the arts are to the city and more evidence of London's cutting-edge creativity.
tate.org.uk

BELOW: The tenth-floor viewing platform at Switch House can also be hired for events for up to 150 guests; Switch House really comes alive at night as it glows in the dark 

Tate Modern Switch House launches on 17 June 2016. To mark the opening weekend there will be a host of free events including film, music, tours and workshops from 17-19 June (10am-10pm). For more information visit tate.org.uk; Tate Modern, Bankside, London SE1.

Photos: Iwan Baan