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  • Articles by Sonali

    Tate Modern Switch House

    The opening of the Switch House at the Tate Modern Extension took place in June. Switch House is designed by Swiss architects Herzog & de Meuron, also responsible for the existing Tate Modern construction, now known as Boiler House.

    Tate Modern Gallery is a hugely popular visitor attraction. It was designed to take 2 million visitors a year when it first opened in 2000. Visitor numbers had risen to 5 million by the end of 2015 and it’s hoped that Switch House will be able to handle the overflow from original site. 

    The entrance to the new extension is through the Turbine Hall, by taking a right turn and a spiral stairwell leading up from the Tanks (a space for film and performance art). Alternatively, there is a brand new Terrace entrance at the back on Sumner St. Here, while walking around the corner, it slowly emerges: a twisted pyramid structure covered in grey brickwork, looking alot like a craggy, foreboding mountain.

    The Switch House extension is 10 storeys high and galleries are on levels 2, 3 and 4. These are roomy and light-filled, enhanced by natural light through slivers of window positioned at quirky angles. The works seem at home here.

    Level 2 focuses on sculpture, with a mixture of new acquisitions such as Pink Tons (a pink cube) by Roni Horn and sculptures by Carl Andre and Donald Judd transferred over from Boiler House.

    The Tate has chosen to expand its collection with new acquisitions by fairly unknown women and international artists on Levels on 3 & 4, highlighting sculpture (Ana Lupus - Romania) and performance (Song Dong - China). The aim is to broaden our perspective on modern art beyond just paintings, which mostly works.

    But some of this is a bit gimmicky and may not appeal to everyone including Tropicália, an installation by Hélio Oiticica which is supposed to feature a real-life macaw. Thankfully, the macaw has since been returned to its owner due to overcrowding near the display. On the other hand, body sculptures by Rebecca Horn, made from fabric, add kudos to the collection.

    I guess the new structure is the real centre of interest here. It certainly has a wow factor including a few standout features which are sure to charm both Londoners and tourists alike. I expect some visitors might skip the art collection and head straight up to viewing level on tenth floor; which has a spectacular 360 degree panoramic view, overlooking the Thames to the London skyline.

    Switch House is also cleverly joined to Boiler House by bridges at levels 1, 3 and 4. The use of natural light through perforations in the brickwork and wrap around ribbon windows is another significant feature here. This gives both a light and airy space, and a constant connection to the outdoor environment.

    The interior might seem a bit brutal (fashioned from raw concrete) while offering plenty of places to sit around (benches, stools). There is a sense of novelty and dynamism here highlighted by the twisted, tapering staircase, echoing the winding structure of Anish Kapoor’s Orbit in Olympic Park perhaps. It’s not without a few issues though. The lifts can be a bit cramped, dodgy and shuddery. And the new Members Room on Level 8, although spacious and airy, is a bit disorienting in terms of its aspect.

    Switch House is certainly a brave and innovative piece of architecture, which works as both a tourist attraction and a gallery. There’s lots to take in here considering the combined effect of art and architecture. But it’s quite playful and understated when compared to many of the newer projects which dominate the London skyline.


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