New Life: Working with Old Buildings

On London’s South Bank, right opposite St. Paul’s cathedral there stands an unusual-looking building with a tall chimney rising above a wide brick façade. Today it is hard to believe that it once housed a power station, and not only that, but one of the biggest in the city. It is as dif cult to credit that for a long period it was completely forgotten as it is that it stands there at all, likewise that it underwent an unexpected renaissance — an afterlife.

New Life: Working with Old Buildings

«A power station should never have been built on Bankside» — with these words begins the book on the history of this building. Back in 1948 when work began on the project to a design by Giles Gilbert Scott, a famous architect, but one who by then harked back to an earlier age, it was obvious that it was superfluous to requirements. By that time electricity no longer had to be generated right in the same place where it was consumed. If it was obvious back then, it was even more so 20 years later when building work was accomplished to what was by then a posthumous design. The power station functioned for only a few years before rising prices for oil and raw materials made electricity generation at Bankside a completely loss-making venture and the plant was closed down.

For many years the building simply stood empty and for several decades the South Bank played no important role in the life of the city. In 1994 it was decided to use the building to house a new museum of modern art — an outpost of the Tate Gallery. The opening of Tate Modern, timed to coincide with the millennium celebrations in the year 2000, attracted attention worldwide and brought world fame to Herzog and de Meuron, the Basel-based architects who prior to then had been known only in tight professional circles. The Millennium Bridge, built to a design

by Foster and Partners, provided a link between the new museum and the centre of London on the north bank of the Thames. Since then Tate Modern has been visited by millions. The opening of the museum has breathed new life into the down at heel area adjoining the former power station and has brought about a sea change in its status.

Gazometer, Vienna. Buildings C and DGazometer, Vienna. Buildings C and D © Irina Chipova

The Tate Gallery. Western façade. Arch. Herzog and de Meuron. London, 2000The Tate Gallery. Western façade. Arch. Herzog and de Meuron. London, 2000 © Christian Richters / arturimages

The “Narva” Tower in the Oberbaum City media-block on the territory of the former port warehouses. Arch. Peter Schweger, ASP Schweger Assoziierte, 2000The «Narva» Tower in the Oberbaum City media-block on the territory of the former port warehouses. Arch. Peter Schweger, ASP Schweger Assoziierte, 2000 © Bernhard Kroll

Main images © Wolfram Janzer, Richard Glover / arturimages