Tate Modern: 10th Anniversary

29 04 2010

The groundbreaking renovation of the Bankside Power Station into the home of Britain’s ‘Modern Art Scene’, the Tate Modern, will celebrate it’s 10th birthday this May.

The international design competition was launched in July 1994, and was won by Herzog & De Meuron, the innovative Swiss architects. Often heralded as their pièce de résistance, the Tate Modern is a beautiful, deft and fitting ‘re-thinking’ of the building. Coming in just shy of £150 million for the conversion meant all eyes were watching to see what HdM would do – they did not disappoint. The newly revamped ‘Tate Modern’ was completed in January 2000, and opened to the public in, you guessed it, May of that year.

Much of the internal structure of the building remained intact, including the vast ‘Turbine Hall’ which has housed many fantastic installations over the past ten years (Olafur Eliasson’s ‘The Weather Project’ being one of my favourites: http://www.tate.org.uk/modern/exhibitions/eliasson/about.htm). Also, an electrical sub-station that took up the southern third of the building remained under the ownership of EDF Energy (the French energy giants) until 2006 when they agreed to release half of this holding to the museum.

The biggest change to the structure is the addition of the two-story glass extension on one half of the roof (this houses all the essential parts of any public building – the obligatory cafe / restaurant etc. Externally then, the building may appear to be relatively unchanged. For me though, it is the subtle adaptation of what was once considered an eyesore on the Thames, into something that Britons have come to love and cherish. It is sympathetic to it’s industrial roots, and yet steers away from them in all the right places.

As Ada Louise Huxtable (juror for the Pritzker Prize the year HdM won) says: “They [HdM] refine the traditions of modernism to elemental simplicity, while transforming materials and surfaces through the exploration of new treatments and techniques.”

To celebrate the anniversary, the Tate is holding a series of events free to the public between 12th – 16th May. This includes an exhibition entitled: ‘No Soul For Sale’ – a three-day festival mixing cutting edge arts events, performances, music and film.

Check out the Tate website for more information: http://www.tate.org.uk/


A little more Orbit

12 04 2010

Anish Kapoor explains, briefly, the idea behind his Olympic Tower. David Sillito asks him inane questions, but it’s nice to see some 3D visualisations of the tower.

Anish Kapoor – Orbit

8 04 2010

Anish Kapoor's 'Eiffel Tower'

Sculpture as architecture is always a thorny subject. Does a sculptor have the technical know-how that an architect does? Have they studied the fabric of construction and know about the mathematics, as well as the creativity, that goes into a building? The answer is probably not – I may be generalising here, but I think it’s a fair bet.

Great architecture is, of course, about the collaboration between many disciplines. It’s the structural engineers who tell us if what we’ve put down on paper will actually work, it’s the quantity and cost surveyors who help us bring a project into existence, the landscape architects who shape the environment around it and the all the other professions are what make a great building, well, great.

Anish Kapoor’s Olympic Tower is a staggering crimson structure that twists and turns it’s way up to 120 metres in height. It has been dubbed the British ‘Eiffel Tower’ – but can it stand up to such a comparison? The London 2012 games are, we’ve been told, Britain’s chance to put on an Olympics with a true British character: something a little quirky, a little off-the-wall. We may not have the budget China had, but we sure as hell are going to put on an ‘individual’ show. Personally, I think that’s great. There’s no reason why we can’t put on an exemplary games with a smaller budget than other countries may have at their disposal, but does that involve a £19 million steel tower? Surely the fact we are working with an increasingly diminishing budget means we should be spending our cash wisely?

The ‘ArcelorMittal Orbit’, to give it it’s full name, has been funded by Europe’s richest man – Lakshmi Mittal – a British Indian steel magnate. He has been named the 5th richest man in the world and sits atop many of the worlds most infulential, and richest companies. He’s non-executive Director of Goldman Sachs, for example – one of the major players in the worldwide financial meltdown – now there’s some kudos for a games that’s supposed to represent modern Britain on a budget. A little insensitive maybe?

All of the political and financial quips aside, does this tower fit the London Olympics? Will it serve to be the shining beacon of our games that it’s supposed to be? There’s no doubt that the East London site the Olympics is calling its home is in need of regeneration, and that anything that can last past those few summer weeks when the games actually take place is a bonus, but I’m unsure whether the Orbit will have longevity.

The Eiffel Tower, of course, was never supposed to live past 1909, but has managed to become an iconic landmark of Paris. Similarly, the Eiffel Tower was met with the same sorts of criticism to that of the ArcelorMittal Orbit – maybe then, I’m being shortsighted. Maybe this tower will define the games in 2012 and will serve as a lasting memory of modern Britain’s creativity and ingenuity. Once I get up in that lift to the viewing platform and have a look for myself, I’ll decide. For now I’m on the fence – a colossal expense, but who knows, maybe it will become one of the landmarks of London?

Masterpieces: Lloyd’s of London

24 03 2010

A monolith on the skyline, the Lloyd’s building has firmly cemented itself into the heart of London’s financial ‘Square Mile’. It is inimitable in style and seems to hold, within it’s 55,000m2 space, the power London holds over the ebb and flow of the world’s financial markets.

Designed by Richard Roger’s Partnership and Completed in 1986, it brought to the captial not just a structure so revolutionary and iconic in style, but also a lesson in subtlety, form and function to a city being rapidly consumed by cardboard cut out office blocks. Even today, you walk past One Lime Street and are taken aback by it’s beautiful and intriguing outer skin; it seems to soften the grid-like structures around it, and yet holds more authority that any of them put together. It’s a kind of quiet strength that still holds it’s own over twenty years later.

The style, of course, was not Roger’s first exploration into what was dubbed ‘Bowelism’. The ‘Centres Georges Pompidou’ opened in Paris to mixed reviews in 1977 with its unorthodox construct – all the core services for the building: heating, water, ventilation and even the stairs all clung to the exterior of the building leaving the interior massive and infinitely usable. The same principle applies to Lloyds: the idea of a building, no matter its physical size, not being bound to one form or finite use is what Roger’s achieved. Just like in the Pompidou, Lloyds’ interior space was designed to shift with the ever-changing markets that governed the business that was to take place there.

‘The room’ as it was known was the space used for the heart of the business  and was a crucial part of the scheme for Lloyd’s – here the deals were made that drove the company. Roger’s designed this area to be flexible; it could expand and contract when needed to reflect the demands of the time via a series of galleries around one central space, the escalators and lifts providing easy access between floors.

All the cumbersome services expelled to the exterior left the interior of the building truly remarkable – a vast, highly efficient space with the ability to change as and when needed. Not only does this create a visual sense of simplicity, but acoustically too. In a business where a majority of the work takes place verbally, it’s startling that, by removing the moan of water pipes and other indistinct murmurs of industry from the area, the space is remarkably quiet for such a large building.

Looking up through the 84 metre high internal atrium is truly an amazing sight, with layer upon layer of perfectly formed space; the interior in some ways resembles a hive. It’s opaque glazing too lends to the idea of a building designed for industry, both in it’s functionality but also in it’s aesthetic, and yet it never feels cold.

Relentless it may appear, but it works because it is subtle and complex, not brash. It works because it can change; it seems to sit somewhere between solidity and transience and, when the financial world swells once more, this building will be still be here, still adapting and still doing what was asked of it back in 1986.

Brick Lane Arches

22 03 2010

Plans to install ‘hijab’ inspired arches at either end of Brick Lane in London’s East End have been unveiled by Tower Hamlets council, sparking controversy from not just architects and designers, but from residents themselves – but why? Surely, with the East London line racing towards completion, it would make sense to create a new ‘gateway’ into Shoreditch and the areas beyond. It would increase the traffic of people through Brick Lane, more tourists, more sightseers more revenue – all that for £1.85m is worth it, right? Surely though, Tower Hamlets wouldn’t be so calculating (literally) as to see these installations merely as shiny beacons luring confused tourists from Liverpool Street to the boutiques and cafes of Shoreditch? Maybe there’s some other motive here.

“The gates represent lots of different communities and how diverse and special Tower Hamlets is.” Said a Tower Hamlets spokesperson in a recent BBC interview.

Bingo: these arches aren’t just money making fads – they’re political. Here’s where the controversy comes in. Here’s where the flaw, in what must have been, in Tower Hamlets eyes, a way of expressing their respect for ethnic minorities, becomes apparent. The arches clearly resemble a Muslim ‘hijab’ – are we therefore led to believe that Brick Lane is made up entirely of Muslims? Is this not offensive to the large Jewish community? To the Hindu’s, the Sikh’s and every other faith in the area? Religious imagery, or anything close to it is surely something to consider carefully when building anything in a large, densely populated city like London? I’m not proposing there be nothing related to any kind of faith, that would leave the city cold, but sensitivity is key.

Local residents have expressed their anger at the proposed arches, including artist Brad Lochore who remarked:

“These are symbols of domination and repression. It’s the wrong sign and it will mean trouble. Its territorialisation for one minority group. And that’s unacceptable.”

Are we, then, desperately trying to galvanise our society, to encourage everyone that we can all get along and live together in harmony, or is this simply political correctness gone absurd? It’s a shame that actions like this do little but highlight attempts to ‘appear’ to be inclusive and respectful of other cultures, when in actual fact it sort of feels like your Dad dancing at a wedding – cringe worthy, embarrassing and a little out of time.

All of this criticism and controversy may, however, be too strong a reaction to a council that are clearly trying to push things forwards and embrace a modern, diverse London that we can all be proud of. After all, take a look at the numerous churches and synagogues brushing alongside the giants of commerce around Liverpool Street (the Gherkin is visible just about everywhere you go around here) – this juxtaposition is what a city is about. Surely then, a splash of religious imagery couldn’t hurt, no matter what faith it’s rooted in? I think maybe a lesson in finesse and sensitivity is in order; or failing that get ’em some dance lessons.