Icon 159: Herzog & de Meuron's Switch House at Tate Modern 01.08.16

As Tate Modern’s Switch House extension opens in London, we visit the monumental Herzog & de Meuron building and interview the gallery’s director Nicholas Serota

By the time Herzog & de Meuron’s Tate Modern extension opened this July, Londoners were already very familiar with its twisting, monumental form. During construction, however, just before the concrete structure was engulfed in bourbon-brown bricks, it took on a ghostly, vaporous appearance. Seeing the building ‘au naturel’ emphasised how far the design has evolved from the architect’s early plans for a glass ziggurat obscured by protruding cuboid clusters. Those proposals were gloriously bold – equal in spirit to IM Pei’s glass pyramid at the Louvre – but they ultimately proved too radical for London.

In the end, it was probably just as well. All that glass was unlikely to be conducive to displaying art, no matter how conceptual. Yet, as the Switch House opens and the UK Brexits, we must remember to fight our occasionally conservative instincts. No doubt the referendum on the country's membership of the European Union has laid bare existing divisions in our society. But, to many remainers, it appeared that the decision was born of fear rather than courage.

There was a pitch-perfect ‘What have the Romans ever done for us?’ moment during the postmortem coverage when a local expressed total antipathy towards the European Union while standing in front of a shiny new sports stadium paid for with EU funds. The Tate Modern extension will house artwork from all over the world, including Europe. Let it serve as a reminder of what we can achieve when we work together.



James McLachlan



Original photo by Andrew Meredith 



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During construction, just before the concrete structure was engulfed in bourbon-brown bricks, Switch House took on a ghostly, vaporous appearance





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