Did you know that for the last few years Tate has been building an extension to the already unfathomable-y huge, needs-a-whole-day-to-visit, Tate Modern? I had no idea until the press launch and the 360 degree view crept into my Instagram feed a few weeks ago. From what I was seeing, just the building itself gave reason enough to put it on the London to-do list.
Switch House, named after the part of the original Bankside Powerstation that the new galleries now occupy, was included in the early plans for Tate Modern. It seems to have been officially in the pipelines since 2000, immediately claiming a prime piece of riverside land for the £260m project. The same architects who designed the conversion of the original powerstation where the main gallery can be found, came up with the extension concepts that have been considered over the years. The financial crisis put a temporary halt on developments, but 16 years later the extension was opened for public viewing, adding 60% more space to the existing gallery.
Sunday was such a lovely sunny day that after brunch I decided to head down to the river to discover more. I thought it would be easy to see from the paths along the River Thames, but from the ground the original gallery keeps it well hidden, neatly tucked around the corner and seemingly out of sight until you get closer.
The first thing that struck me about it was its jaunty angles and geometric patterns.
The twisted pyramid shape is said to be a reflection of the forces acting on it from all sides, its neighbours’ rights to light and the invisible lines of protected views to the dome of St Paul’s (the same reason why the cheese grater is triangular!).
The lattice of bricks allow the building to sit comfortably with those of Giles Gilbert Scott’s powerhouse (did you know that he also designed the red telephone box?).
They also allow a certain amount of light in and out so that in the day the gallery is flooded with light and at night the building glows.
It’s an instant photographer’s hit but I don’t think you’d necessarily call it an attractive building (which in my opinion is a description usually reserved for the most beautiful historic buildings.)
I realised at this point that it’s totally joined up to the original gallery, now known as the Boiler House (where all the galleries are) and the Turbine Hall (the building’s infamous huge open space) and it really does seem to work as an extension on an epic scale.
As I stepped into the gallery it took me downstairs into what looked like a complete concrete jungle, apt for a city like London but a little cold on the eye. The smooth spiral staircase quickly provides something more pleasing to look at.
This part of Tate Modern has been named ‘The Tanks’ and is set to be the world’s first gallery spaces dedicated to live art, film and installations. There are a further ten floors with three dedicated to displaying art and the top floor offering those views I was looking for. I couldn’t resist going straight up in the lift.
As soon as the lift opened, I quickly approached the balcony, weaving my way through other visitors . What a view!
I’ve seen London from all sorts of heights but aerial views like this never get old, it’s a sort of ordering of chaos from this height. But I do enjoy each one for different reasons. Switch House is great because it has four sides offering 360 views.
It continues the theme of letting in plenty of light and allows for some fun reflections.
But it’s also in the open air, so no annoying reflections to deal with in your snaps of the city.
Whilst it’s a photographers dream, I should probably warn that those with a fear of heights might be less happy. Even I had a couple of dizzy moments. Particularly taking the above shot and peering over the edge with my camera.
Here and there I found sketchers etching out the horizon.
It seems totally apt for an art gallery that artists can find a (free) home and a pretty cool place to work for an afternoon.
After I’d done a couple of laps, taken a 100 snaps, added something to Snapchat and Instagram Stories (it was *that* good). I decided to work my way down by the stairs. Partly because the lifts are pretty small and they were getting busy, but also because I knew it would be a good way to explore the rest of the building. I wasn’t disappointed.
More stunning stairs and lots of interesting light. I was in my own little photography bubble and it was lovely. I forgot how therapeutic I find photography when I’m on my own and after a few hectic weeks of weddings and hen dos I was grateful for the reminder.
I stumbled across a random room where everyone appeared to be napping. (It was a form of interactive art, of course.) This led me to a fun room of things to peer in to.
I never really ponder too much over art, my attention span can’t handle it, so I carried on back down and found myself on the bridge across the Turbine Hall to the Boiler House. Doesn’t it make life look so small?
I decided not to cross it and instead continued my way down the Switch House, when I suddenly realised that I’d been there a couple of hours already and my stomach was rumbling for ice cream. So I headed to the exit.
The best thing about being a Londoner is that I’m lucky enough to have the option to go back and take in more of the art there. But if you’re walking along the river and you only have an hour, I’d definitely recommend it. Such a great view without having to spend a penny.
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Have you visited the Switch House yet? Do you have a favourite art gallery or view of London?
Tate Modern can be found here. It’s free to enter but they do ask for any donations and you’ll need to buy tickets and pay for some exhibitions. It’s open 10am until 6pm Sunday to Thursday, and 10am until 10pm Friday and Saturday (I’m totally thinking about a sunset trip come autumn!) Visit their website for more information.