A return to convention at Tate Britain

The French have an expression, comme il faut, meaning in accord with convention and existing standards; as it should be. The contemporary design architect is more inclined towards re-invention. New principles are what are required rather than decorum. And when dealing with historic buildings we learn that a heritage approach requires the respectful repair of existing fabric to its original appearance with new interventions clearly distinguishable from the old.

What is startling about the refurbishment of Tate Britain is that it is tricky to tell what is old and what is new. There is certainly a fresh dynamism about the building that cannot be explained by a lick of paint, but just what is it that has changed? I am pretty sure that the spiral stair in the rotunda wasn’t there before and the basement area is a more interesting space than I remember it to be. The rest is a guessing game.

The architect, Caruso St John, has acted with remarkable confidence. Significant changes have been made to the building without highlighting what those changes are. This contradicts current design ethics but with an irony attached; in defying convention, they have adhered to it; comme il faut.


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