Tate Britain unveils £45m refurbishment

view gallery VIEW GALLERY

The latest makeover won’t make Tate Britain 'cool', but it has become far more welcoming and architecturally elegant

Will the £45m spent on London’s newly renovated Tate Britain art gallery make it significantly more popular than Chester Zoo?

The 116-year-old institution currently attracts 1.5m visitors a year, about the same as the zoo, and it lags more than 3m visitors short of both Tate Modern and the National Gallery.

Tate Britain is in the world’s art destination premier league, but it’s currently mid-table.

Click here or on 'view gallery' for more images of  Tate Britain's redesign

A couple of signings, to continue the football metaphor, have changed all that. The architects Peter St John and Adam Caruso – known for their intellectually fancy footwork – were brought in six years ago to create a design strategy that would up the visitor tempo and revitalise Tate’s entrance sequence, which reopened today.

It’s the second of a major three-phase transformation of the Grade II listed Tate. In May, Caruso St John Architects’ renovation of ten Victorian galleries banished memories of scores of great paintings being hung in wretched conditions typified by poor lighting, and crude temperature and humidity controls.

The latest makeover won’t make Tate Britain cool, a la Tate Modern. But the arrival experience, once like being trapped in an architectural hernia, has become far more welcoming and architecturally elegant. The clear order and finely crafted detail of the redesign has opened up new circulation routes in this part of the main building: the calm spaces breathe, and connect properly, for the first time.     

Tate Britain's new Djanogly café. Courtesy Caruso St John and Tate Tate Britain's new Djanogly café. Courtesy Caruso St John and Tate

The overall restraint of the interventions gives us only one Wow moment: a new circular staircase in the Rotunda, scalloped with Art Deco patterns. The stairs swirl you down from the entrance level of the Rotunda into the remodelled space between the renovated Whistler restaurant, and a big new café with crypt-like vaulting and glazed doors that open onto a semi-sunken terrace. The miserably pokey descent to the original grimly groovy café is history.                          

Yet history lives on in new and different ways. Peter St John suggests that the changes at the Tate are “radical”, but they’re not. The new interventions are architecturally logical, and fastidiously subtle. This fusion of history and modern spatial organisation has given the Tate a much more relaxed gravitas: the subtle new paint colours, terrazzo flooring, and joinery are all based on the original palette of materials specified by Sidney Smith, who designed the original building in 1892.

There is no jarring sense of old and new, for example, in the way the Grand Salon on the first floor has been transformed into an events room overlooking the Thames; and in the building’s undercroft, the creation of a new education reception space and archive galleries (in the foundations of the 19th century Millbank Penitentiary) has completely renergised this segment of the building.  

There is wit and a dash of refined style in the new lighting, and in the furnishings of the Tate members’ terrace in the Rotunda. Here, you can sit on leather-clad Lutyens chairs or – a slightly wicked touch, this – on very short stools at the low-slung bar, like children banished to the Naughty Step.

The transformation of Tate Britain’s core building will seem effortless to many, but it  didn’t come easily. The process was tortuous: the architects met Tate officials three times a month since 2006 to gradually refine the design. These new interiors float like pristine swans on a lake of creative sweat.

The Grand Saloon at Tate Britain. Courtesy Caruso St John and Tate The Grand Saloon at Tate Britain. Courtesy Caruso St John and Tate   

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Keira Knightley and Benedict Cumberbatch star in the Alan Turing biopic The Imitation Game

film
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Radio 4's Today programme host Evan Davis has been announced as the new face of Newsnight

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Pharrell Williams performing on the Main Stage at the Wireless Festival in Finsbury Park, north London

music
Arts and Entertainment
Carrie Mathison returns to the field in the fourth season of Showtime's Homeland

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Crowds soak up the atmosphere at Latitude Festival

music
Arts and Entertainment
Meyne Wyatt and Caren Pistorus arrive for the AACTA Aawrds in Sydney, Australia

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Rick Astley's original music video for 'Never Gonna Give You Up' has been removed from YouTube

music
Arts and Entertainment
Quentin Blake's 'Artists on the beach'

Artists unveils new exhibition inspired by Hastings beach

art
Arts and Entertainment
MusicFans were left disappointed after technical issues
Arts and Entertainment
'Girl with a Pearl Earring' by Johannes Vermeer, c. 1665
artWhat is it about the period that so enthrals novelists?
Arts and Entertainment
Into the woods: The Merry Wives of Windsor at Petersfield
theatreOpen-air productions are the cue for better box-office receipts, new audiences, more interesting artistic challenges – and a picnic
Arts and Entertainment
James singer Tim Booth
latitude 2014
Arts and Entertainment
Lee says: 'I never, ever set out to offend, but it can be an accidental by-product'
comedy
Arts and Entertainment
tvThe judges were wowed by the actress' individual cooking style
Arts and Entertainment
Nicholas says that he still feels lucky to be able to do what he loves, but that there is much about being in a band he hates
musicThere is much about being in a band that he hates, but his debut album is suffused with regret
Arts and Entertainment
The singer, who herself is openly bisexual, praised the 19-year-old sportsman before launching into a tirade about the upcoming Winter Olympics

books
Arts and Entertainment
music
Arts and Entertainment
Jon Cryer and Ashton Kutcher in the eleventh season of Two and a Half Men

tv
Arts and Entertainment
Ben Whishaw is replacing Colin Firth as the voice of Paddington Bear

film
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Noel Fielding's 'Luxury Comedy': A land of the outright bizarre

    Noel Fielding's 'Luxury Comedy'

    A land of the outright bizarre
    What are the worst 'Word Crimes'?

    What are the worst 'Word Crimes'?

    ‘Weird Al’ Yankovic's latest video is an ode to good grammar. But what do The Independent’s experts think he’s missed out?
    Can Secret Cinema sell 80,000 'Back to the Future' tickets?

    The worst kept secret in cinema

    A cult movie event aims to immerse audiences of 80,000 in ‘Back to the Future’. But has it lost its magic?
    Facebook: The new hatched, matched and dispatched

    The new hatched, matched and dispatched

    Family events used to be marked in the personal columns. But now Facebook has usurped the ‘Births, Deaths and Marriages’ announcements
    Why do we have blood types?

    Are you my type?

    All of us have one but probably never wondered why. Yet even now, a century after blood types were discovered, it’s a matter of debate what they’re for
    Honesty box hotels: You decide how much you pay

    Honesty box hotels

    Five hotels in Paris now allow guests to pay only what they think their stay was worth. It seems fraught with financial risk, but the honesty policy has its benefit
    Commonwealth Games 2014: Why weight of pressure rests easy on Michael Jamieson’s shoulders

    Michael Jamieson: Why weight of pressure rests easy on his shoulders

    The Scottish swimmer is ready for ‘the biggest race of my life’ at the Commonwealth Games
    Some are reformed drug addicts. Some are single mums. All are on benefits. But now these so-called 'scroungers’ are fighting back

    The 'scroungers’ fight back

    The welfare claimants battling to alter stereotypes
    Amazing video shows Nasa 'flame extinguishment experiment' in action

    Fireballs in space

    Amazing video shows Nasa's 'flame extinguishment experiment' in action
    A Bible for billionaires

    A Bible for billionaires

    Find out why America's richest men are reading John Brookes
    Paranoid parenting is on the rise - and our children are suffering because of it

    Paranoid parenting is on the rise

    And our children are suffering because of it
    For sale: Island where the Magna Carta was sealed

    Magna Carta Island goes on sale

    Yours for a cool £4m
    Phone hacking scandal special report: The slide into crime at the 'News of the World'

    The hacker's tale: the slide into crime at the 'News of the World'

    Glenn Mulcaire was jailed for six months for intercepting phone messages. James Hanning tells his story in a new book. This is an extract
    We flinch, but there are degrees of paedophilia

    We flinch, but there are degrees of paedophilia

    Child abusers are not all the same, yet the idea of treating them differently in relation to the severity of their crimes has somehow become controversial
    The truth about conspiracy theories is that some require considering

    The truth about conspiracy theories is that some require considering

    For instance, did Isis kill the Israeli teenagers to trigger a war, asks Patrick Cockburn