We first visited the Tanks in 1994 on a tour of the former power station with Nick Serota and his team. The dark and sinister industrial world we encountered was very exciting, yet it also had a romantic side to it, a special flavour. Ever since, we have seen the Tanks as the one area we could keep as original as possible, compared with the other parts of the museum that needed to be far more refined and become classical galleries. This was not only our vision and dream, but that of Nick and the curators.
The Tate Modern expansion has allowed us to revisit the Tanks, and Tate’s aim for this new project has been to fuse the extension with the power station’s past and history, so that, like the original conversion, it would always refer back to the building as it once was, which was rough and industrial. This sense of rawness and immediacy holds an enormous fascination for all of us, and in many ways is in opposition to the existing galleries. Architecturally, the Tanks resemble a space ship, but they also have something of the feel of a bunker, or a cave, as they are underground spaces sculpted from concrete. They have many different associations and are certainly not what you would expect in the traditional museum. Therefore, our approach should not be seen as a fashion trend, or as an alternative to the white cube, but instead as something that was essential to our very first experience of the old power station.
As such, we hope that they give more freedom and a sense of possibility for innovation to artists and curators. In terms of artworks, we imagine them to be used in many different ways. For performance and film they are perhaps less unusual settings, although still unique. But imagine a classical painting hanging in the round raw concrete; that would also be amazing. We trust that art can be tested in different areas within the expanded Tate Modern – from classical light galleries, the white cube and more abstract spaces, to this kind of polygonal form, where you are aware you are underground and the viewer is provided with different contexts and experiences.
The reason why we as architects keep returning to art is because we are continually fascinated by what it can be, and by the innovation that it can bring to our lives and understanding of society, in particular when dealing with issues of perception and awareness. We believe that this form of democratic museum is a very strong basis for how our society should work, in terms of its openness to the audience and to art, not in conserving and conforming to traditional values, but in testing them and experimenting and discussing art publicly. And making all this accessible to as many people as possible, not just an elite, also links to ideas of learning, an element that features strongly in the new expansion. In the case of Tate, which attracts the largest crowds anywhere in the world for contemporary and modern art, this is not only a very important platform for London, but for everyone. All in all, we believe that galleries and museums can play a vital role in questioning systems within art and society at large and offer alternative models, at once establishing a social space for the dissemination of ideas.
- Jacques Herzog established his architectural practice with Pierre de Meuron in 1978. Herzog & de Meuron is responsible for major buildings across the world, including Tate Modern (2000), Tokyo’s Prada Epicenter (2003) and Beijing’s iconic Olympic Stadium (2007). The Tanks form part of the expansion programme, Transforming Tate Modern