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/


2010 Pritzker Prize winners: Kazuyo Sejima + Ryue Nishizawa

29 03 2010

Japanese partners in the architectural firm SANAA (Kazuyo Sejima + Ryue Nishizawa) have been awarded with the ‘2010 Laureate of the Pritzker Architecture Prize’ for their outstanding contributions toward groundbreaking, innovative architecture in the built environment today.

This is the third time since the prize’s inception that two architects have been awarded; this first was in 1988 when Oscar Niemeyer and Gordon Bunshaft were honoured, and the second in 2001 when Jacques Herzog and Pierre de Meuron (post coming soon about their new ‘VitraHaus’) received the award.

So what makes Sejima & Nishizawa worthy winners? How can one distill an award like this, which promises to seek out: “a living
architect whose built work demonstrates a combination of those qualities of talent, vision and commitment, which has produced consistent and significant contributions to humanity and the built environment through the art of architecture.” That’s no mean feat.

A majority of SANAA’s work has been limited to their native Japan, was this ‘worldwide’ award, then, correctly dished out? SANAA’s architecture is beautiful, don’t get me wrong, it’s clean, simple, organic and ever-so Japanese. They have consistently designed perfectly functional and attractive buildings, so I believe they well deserve the award. There’s just one thing that niggles at me: there seems to be a lack of fire in much of their work. Everything is white render, floor to ceiling glazing and cold hard steel. I think sometimes you could argue a white box always looks edgy and beautiful if you stick in a field surrounded by ancient woodland and a beautiful, lush landscape. Take that box out of the landscape and stick it in a desolate urban environment, and suddenly it can loose all it’s appeal – not always, but it’s tricky to get right. SANAA’s ’21st Century Museum’ in Kanazawa, Japan borders on the edge of ‘fashionable’ architecture for me, and fails to impact as much as it would like to.

Their design for the ‘New Museum of Contemporary Art’ in new York however manages to shrug off the ‘white box’ syndrome by cleverly, and effectively playing with form and structure. The museum resembles, quite aptly considering my ‘white box’ analogy, a pile of white boxes stacked irregularly on top of each other. Each level has looked at individually and has been planned with precision for the job at hand – temporary and movable walls allow the gallery space to shift to accommodate the work being shown. The interior is sleek and minimalist, but not cold; it seems to want to house glorious works of art. This white box has soul.

SANAA then, have the worldwide recognition that will, no doubt, propel them even further into the architectural limelight. I suppose then, as much as honoring architects whom have already shown us what they can do, they can sometimes highlight what’s to come. Let’s hope Sejima & Nishizawa take this award as a sign to up their game – their audience just got a whole lot bigger.