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Tate Modern was created out of the shell of a former power plant.
Herzog & de Meuron, the same guys that designed the M. H. de Young Museum in San Francisco and the Beijing National Stadium for the Olympics, won the commission for this museum by being the only ones to not demolish the power plant.
The Turbine Hall, used for large-scale temporary exhibitions, must be the single biggest gallery space ever. It used to house the power plant’s turbines and is an empty room that is five stories tall and has enough floor space to almost fit a football field, the American kind. The Turbine Hall exhibitions are so awesome they have corporate sponsors. Unilever recently ended their sponsorship in 2012 and Hyundai has picked it up for a rumored $8 million through 2025.
In 2013, German electric dance music group Kraftwerk performed in the Turbine Hall. Demand for tickets was so high it crashed the ticketing website and to add insult to injury angered many fans who felt the $60 prices were far too expensive.
It sits on the South Bank of the Thames, a gorgeous spot just across the Millennium Bridge from London’s famous St. Paul’s Cathedral. It’s easy to reach by public transport and it’s free!
What it's like:
A radically repurposed 1940s power plant and sky-high. It would have been even taller but Londoners wouldn’t accept anything rising above St. Paul’s Cathedral on the other side of the Thames.
We suggest entering through the Turbine Hall, not the more obvious entrance facing the Thames. Looks and feels like a magnificent cathedral, and the guy responsible, Sir Giles Gilbert Scott, built Leeds Cathedral before he did the power plant. He also designed the famous red cast-iron telephone boxes which, along with the double decker bus, those awkward black cabs, and the unarmed bobbies, are London for most of us.
The Turbine Hall is extraordinary. In a digital world of silicon, ephemeral micro-everythings and prefab buildings, nothing is more different than this mega-industrial space. It goes up 99 m (325 ft) and spreads 200 m (660 ft) in length. And it’s all empty, except for tiny little people dots scurrying across the floor, and periodic sculptures. The galleries, bookstores, and cafes are stuck on one side of the Hall like barnacles.
The ground floor restaurant has good coffee, cake, food, leather couches, a bar (!), wifi, and lots of tables. The waiters look sharp. In fact, there are cafes or restaurants on pretty much every floor, and then dozens more outside on the South Bank.
The two bookstores are respectable but they lack all the cool design stuff of MOMA in San Francisco or New York. The British are less in to selling things than North Americas, which is a pity.
Galleries are sparse with a lot of unexpected modern art alongside the classics. Interactive exhibits keep popping up. The master curator has an attitude and, contrary to centuries of museum tradition, rotates the museum’s 70,000 works on display often. Downside, you’re favorite piece has just vanished. Upside, welcome surprises on return visits.