Bankside Power Station
Tate Modern is housed in the former Bankside Power Station, which was originally designed by Sir Giles Gilbert Scott, the architect of Battersea Power Station, and built in two stages between 1947 and 1963. It is directly across the river from St Paul's Cathedral. The power station closed in 1981.
Prior to redevelopment, the power station was a 200 m (660 ft) long, steel framed, brick clad building with a substantial central chimney standing 99 m (325 ft). The structure was roughly divided into three main areas each running east-west – the huge main Turbine Hall in the centre, with the boiler house to the north and the switch house to the south.
For many years after closure Bankside Power station was at risk of being demolished by developers. Many people campaigned for the building to be saved and put forward suggestions for possible new uses. An application to list the building was refused. 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. Jacques Herzog and Pierre de Meuron of Herzog & de Meuron were announced as the winning architects in January 1995. The £134 million conversion to the Tate Modern started in June 1995 and completed in January 2000.
The most obvious external change was the two-story glass extension on one half of the roof. Much of the original internal structure remained, including the cavernous main turbine hall, which retained the overhead travelling crane. An electrical substation, taking up the Switch House in the southern third of the building, remained on-site and owned by the French power company EDF Energy while Tate took over the northern Boiler House for Tate Modern's main exhibition spaces.
Panoramic view from Tate Modern balcony
The history of the site as well as information about the conversion was the basis for a 2008 documentary Architects Herzog and de Meuron: Alchemy of Building & Tate Modern. This challenging conversion work was carried by Carillion.
Opening and initial reception
Tate Modern was opened by the Queen on 11 May 2000.
Tate Modern received 5.25 million visitors in its first year. The previous year the three existing Tate galleries had received 2.5 million visitors combined.
Tate Modern had attracted more visitors than originally expected and plans to expand it had been in preparation since 2004. These plans focused on the south west of the building with the intention of providing 5,000 m2 of new display space, almost doubling the amount of display space.
The southern third of the building was retained by the French power company EDF Energy as an electrical substation. In 2006, the company released the western half of this holding and plans were made to replace the structure with a tower extension to the museum, initially planned to be completed in 2015. The tower was to be built over the old oil storage tanks, which would be converted to a performance art space. Structural, geotechnical, civil, and façade engineering and environmental consultancy was undertaken by Ramboll between 2008 and 2016.
This project was initially costed at £215 million. Of the money raised, £50 million came from the UK government; £7 million from the London Development Agency; £6 million from philanthropist John Studzinski; and donations from, among others, the Sultanate of Oman and Elisabeth Murdoch.
In June 2013, international shipping and property magnate Eyal Ofer pledged £10m to the extension project, making it to 85% of the required funds. Eyal Ofer, chairman of London-based Zodiac Maritime Agencies, said the donation made through his family foundation would enable "an iconic institution to enhance the experience and accessibility of contemporary art". The Tate director, Nicholas Serota, praised the donation saying it would help to make Tate Modern a "truly twenty-first-century museum".
The first phase of the expansion involved the conversion of three large, circular, underground oil tanks originally used by the power station into accessible display spaces and facilities areas. These opened on 18 July 2012 and closed on 28 October 2012 as work on the tower building continued directly above. They reopened following the completion of the Switch House extension on 17 June 2016.
Two of the Tanks are used to show live performance art and installations while the third provides utility space. Tate describes them as "the world's first museum galleries permanently dedicated to live art".
The Switch House
Exterior of the Switch House
A ten-storey tower, 65 metres high from ground level, was built above the oil tanks.
The original western half of the Switch House was demolished to make room for the tower and then rebuilt around it with large gallery spaces and access routes between the main building and the new tower on level 1 (ground level) and level 4. The new galleries on level 4 have natural top lighting. A bridge built across the turbine hall on level 4 to provides an upper access route.
The new building opened to the public on 17 June 2016.
The design, again by Herzog & de Meuron, has been controversial. It was originally designed with a glass stepped pyramid, but this was amended to incorporate a sloping façade in brick latticework (to match the original power-station building) despite planning consent to the original design having been previously granted by the supervising authority.
The extension provides 22,492 square metres of additional gross internal area for display and exhibition spaces, performance spaces, education facilities, offices, catering and retail facilities as well as a car parking and a new external public space.
In May 2017, the Switch House was formally renamed the Blavatnik Building, after Anglo-Ukrainian billionaire Sir Leonard Blavatnik, who contributed a "substantial" amount of the £260m cost of the extension. Sir Nicholas Serota commented "Len Blavatnik's enthusiastic support ensured the successful realisation of the project and I am delighted that the new building now bears his name".