London's new art galleries

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    Touch of glass: Herzog and de Meuron's Tate Modern design

    Public spaces

    Tate Modern

    With more than twice as many visitors as anticipated, Tate Modern can’t cope; at weekends, the galleries get too crowded for anyone’s enjoyment, so it needs more room. Next year, the electricity switching station at the back of the building will be reduced by half. This is the perfect opportunity to create a new entrance and build an extension on the south side. Herzog and de Meuron’s design resembles an irregular stack of glass blocks that would provide more room for the permanent collection, enough space for touring exhibitions in their entirety and better education facilities.

    ‘We have big audiences for our events,’ says Tate director Nicholas Serota. ‘And we want to have more performances, music and film, as well as traditional lectures. People are much more demanding and informed; they regard us as an educational resource, but we haven’t got anything like enough room.’

    The proposals are up for planning permission alongside several other projects so that planners can take a broad look at their impact on the area. The Design Museum hopes to build its new home behind Tate Modern and the Architecture Foundation has submitted plans by Zaha Hadid for an HQ at the corner of Southwark and Guildford Streets. Developer Land Securities has submitted proposals for a block of flats in Hopton Street designed by Richard Rogers and is offering to buy a site earmarked for a 32-storey block that would tower over Tate Modern’s side entrance and donate it to the museum for use as open space.

    If permission is granted, the Tate’s scheme (which includes new cafés, restaurants, shops and a roof terrace and would be built in time for the Olympics in 2012) wouldn’t just benefit the museum; the whole area would be rejuvenated by exciting buildings and public spaces shaded by 1,000 new trees. ‘It’s a big opportunity to improve the public realm – to create a Bankside urban park,’ says Serota. ‘By planting trees and creating little corners like they have in Paris with five trees and a bench, you can make it a place that people want to live and work in.’

    Will it be like a theme park or like the Museum Insel in Berlin, where national museums are clustered? ‘It won’t be a theme park if the quality of the exhibitions is good enough,’ Serota assures me. ‘But, given the grittiness of Southwark, it won’t be as august as the Museum Insel!’

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