While the massive new extension at Tate Modern is still under construction and due to open in 2014, Tate Britain has been undergoing a £45 million transformation at its southern end. The original entrance to the Gallery, in recent years this end hasn’t felt a second cousin to the new Manton Entrance in Atterbury Street which leads to large airy spaces which then diminished towards the north. Jeremy Dixon made a radical improvement with his new cafe in the 1980′s but that was 30 year ago, so it is good to see the opening of this new project which celebrates the rotunda and the connections it can offer with a new staircase that opens up this part of the building. If this was Tate Modern we would expect something contemporary; here Caruso St John the architects have gone back to the 1920′s and boldly created an art- deco staircase.
As Robert Bevan in Building Design says:
“The £45 million first phase of the project reopens the Millbank portals and returns the entrance rotunda to its hub role with circulation spaces organised off it at three levels. Entry from the Millbank steps now leads you beneath carved lions and unicorns into Smith’s restored lobby whose polished-up black and white stone floor is a cue for what is to come. Move through into the rotunda and Caruso St John’s first radically lovely intervention awaits – a new spiral staircase under the dome contained within a pierced stone balustrade that connects the principal floor to the lower level. The floor and balustrade is a seamless sheath of monochrome scalloping that flows silkily across the floor.”
The unique Whistler Restaurant has been restored and the first floor which used to be protected either by a steel gate or a ferocious guard has been opened up – at last, we might say!
It all looks so logical but, as Jay Merrick says in the Independent:
“The transformation of Tate Britain’s core building will seem effortless to many, but it didn’t come easily. The process was tortuous: the architects met Tate officials three times a month since 2006 to gradually refine the design. These new interiors float like pristine swans on a lake of creative sweat”.
The Tate still has some undeveloped buildings for which James Stirling prepared a masterpan when he designed the Clore Gallery in the 1980′s. It would be good to see them brought into more public use as part of future phases of development.