Give us greens with our gallery

Bankside power station is all set to become the new Tate. Jonathan Glancey has just one amendment to the plans - a glorious garden to enrich the riverbank
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"Bankside Power Station is so big," says Jacques Herzog, "that you cannot work against it." This is good to hear. Bankside is on its way to being transformed into the Tate Gallery of Modern Art and Jacques Herzog is one half of Herzog and de Meuron, the studio of Swiss architects in charge of the conversion.

Last week, Herzog was in London to present the latest designs for the up-and-coming gallery to the press. The plans are clear and simple, but neither icy nor rigid. In fact, as Herzog made clear as we walked around the mighty power station, he and his team hope to generate a design that will move our five senses.

"Too many modern buildings," he believes, "are designed only to engage the eye. You have many examples of such buildings in England; they are logical, but you cannot really engage with them. But there is no reason why a modern building cannot also be sensual. This is something we try to do in our designs. We create textures inside and outside that are interesting to look at and to touch. I think the way a building smells is important, too. Architects can forget that. We will spend considerable time making sure the cooling and ventilation system at Bankside is the best we can achieve. More than three million people a year will come here; it must not be stuffy, breathless or in any way unpleasant."

In Herzog and de Meuron's hands, the Tate Gallery of Modern Art will be a calm, if not altogether neutral, space. "It is not a railway station or an air terminal, despite its vast scale and industrial character," says Herzog, "so we will keep lifts and escalators and all other mechanical aspects of the building out of the way. When you enter the building, from each of its four sides, you will walk into a giant top-lit hall or galleria [what was the Turbine Hall]; this will be a place to meet friends and orient yourself, and where teenagers can hang out on a rainy day.

"I want this to be a great public space, a kind of piazza indoors, so it won't be filled up with booths and desks, or with shops and cloakrooms, as so many museums and galleries are. Instead, you will have a sense of the raw power of the building - you will be able to feel the strength and depth of its concrete foundations, of the great steel beams that support its glazed roof and the great expanses of shot-blasted brick that form the walls."

In this sense, the Herzog and de Meuron conversion may well appeal to those for whom Sir Giles Gilbert Scott, designer of the power station, could do no wrong and, thus, for whom the great brick, steel and concrete behemoth is a monument that should not be toyed with by lesser talents. If anything, the Basle architects have enhanced this temple of power, focusing on its inherent strengths and refusing to play down its brute majesty.

"The art itself," continues Herzog, "apart from sculptures placed in the hall, will be presented in air-conditioned galleries on the north side of the building overlooking the Thames and St Paul's Cathedral. You will be able to see something of these through a great glass wall placed between them and the old Turbine Hall - a bit like a transparent video wall. Here, you will also find a river-view restaurant; this will have its own entrance so people can come here for a meal without having to pass through the galleries. There will also be a separate entrance for the chimney. At the top of this [325ft high], there will be viewing platforms - a lot of tourists will want to ascend this even if they are not mad on art."

In Herzog's animated company (the Swiss architect looks the model of the cool, laid-back, dispassionate professional, yet is anything but, which is why you tend to trust him - he believes in something, has something to say and an intellectual drive barely contained by his slight frame), the future Tate Gallery of Modern Art sounds a wonderful enterprise, a gleaming, yet humane temple to the wayward, wilful and wacky art of the 20th century. Most of us will want to come here, and whatever our architectural prejudices (Herzog, a free-thinker, has a healthily undogmatic approach to design), will encounter a palace of aesthetic delight.

How you will come and what you will experience outside its mighty walls is as yet uncertain. It seems likely that the new Tate will be approached from the north by a pedestrian bridge over the Thames connecting it to St Paul's Cathedral, which attracts three million visitors a year. From the south bank of the river, the gallery will be reached by a new tube station (designed by MacCormac Jamieson and Prichard) on the Jubilee Line extension to Docklands, due to open in 1998 - two years ahead of the gallery.

If all goes well, the Tate and the London borough of Southwark, in which the former power station stands, will generate new buildings, enterprises, jobs and homes around the titanic gallery. And yet, although all this sounds winter made glorious summer, there is no guarantee that the shabby old district surrounding the Tate will match the ambition and dignity of the gallery.

West along the Thames, the original Tate Gallery stands, after very nearly a century, in less than splendid isolation. The same is true of the South Bank Centre and would have been true (may yet be true?) of the area surrounding Battersea Power Station if it had been converted into a giant indoor theme- park as was once promised by John Broome, Margaret Thatcher's favourite capitalist.

What would root the new Tate more happily to central London, and what would help Southwark engender a sense of place here, is fewer shops, flats and minor galleries cashing in on the presence of their public partner, and something more along the lines of the long-forgotten Vauxhall Gardens.

Because the Tate, no matter what magic Herzog and de Meuron perform on the power station, will represent the serious face of Culture, it needs something beautiful and rather frivolous to set it off. Not, God forbid, a theme-park, but a garden of delight running along the embanked river, projected over it where feasible and working its sensual ways into interstices between grim industrial buildings, Tate and existing railway arches.

The New Spring Garden (later to be called Vauxhall Gardens or the Pleasure Gardens) opened on the south bank to the west of Westminster Bridge in 1660; here, delight was restored to post-Cromwell London. Reached exclusively by boat for its first 90 years, the garden was a place for all Londoners to stroll and play. Pepys found it a naughty place (and so it was - no place for husband and wife - and especially at night, despite the great lanterns that lit its serpentine paths), but it proved to be a perennial delight, its Chinese pavilions and Gothic bandstand appealing as much to "Poor Fred" (Frederick, Prince of Wales), who held a great fancy dress party here in 1732, as to Dr Johnson.

Public parties, hot-air balloon launches, firework displays (Handel's Music for the Royal Fireworks was rehearsed here), a re-enactment by 1,000 soldiers of the Battle of Waterloo in 1827 ... London's pleasure garden was sorely missed when it closed in the age of Victorian prudery.

It deserves to be resurrected in a new guise as a foil to the earnestness of the lives of those who work hard in the capital, as a foil to the high- minded Tate and as a foil to theme-parks that still threaten to engulf London (Battersea, Uxbridge) from every side. Such a project would not be particularly expensive; it could form a part of the linear park and walkway that many of us dream of lining the Thames as it surges upriver from the old docks to Chelsea and beyond.

If such a garden were built at Bankside, Jacques Herzog's dream of a building, and a place that delighted all five senses, would be made real. True, Jacques, you cannot work against Bankside Power Station, but you can work with it.