Tate Britain reveals new £45 million makeover

By Sarah Jackson | 19 November 2013

The newly refurbished Millbank entrance to Tate Britain reveals what £45 million of private funding can build you in London today

View of a rotunda with a white and black terrazzo floor and central balustrade.
Principal Level Rotunda at Tate Britain, Millbank entrance© 2013 Helene Binet
The three-year building project to transform Tate Britain’s Millbank entrance, reopen derelict spaces and restore the historical logic of the building has concluded with the public unveiling of the results.

Lord Browne, the Chair of Tate’s Trustees, called the project a “triumph” of British philanthropy, with the £45 million project funded almost entirely by private individuals and organisations.

According to the Director of Tate Britain, Penelope Curtis, the new Tate Britain "opens up the Millbank entrance" to "reassert and enhance the original grandeur and logic of the galleries.”

Architects Caruso St John have combined the most beautiful of the old elements of the building with new features, including three site-specific artist commissions.

These interventions are particularly subtle: Richard Wright has designed new handmade glass and leading for the eastern window in the Millbank foyer, while Nicole Wermer’s unique tea and coffee spoons will be available for use in the dining areas.

Visitors to the Djagnoly Café should also pause from their refreshments to look up at Alan Johnston’s subtle and elegant pencil drawing, which enhances and deepens the shadows of the vaulted ceiling.

The most obvious change made by the building works is the creation of a new central staircase in the rotunda. Once again, Caruso St John’s architecture blurs the new and the old, keeping much of the rotunda’s architecture intact whilst completely transforming the space with the creation of the staircase.

Visitors to Tate Britain during the past few years might agree that the building was confusing to navigate, with little to connect the Manton entrance (home of most of the temporary exhibitions) to the Milbank entrance and the Clore galleries, containing the Turner collection.

The introduction of the central spiral staircase at the Millbank entrance finally gives the building a coherence it has desperately lacked until now. The staircase leads visitors down to the refurbished Rex Whistler restaurant (complete with restored Whistler mural, The Expedition in Pursuit of Rare Meats) as well as the new Djanogly Café, both with access to an outside terrace.

Spaces formerly used as dank storage spaces and offices have now been transformed into an Archive Gallery, presenting temporary displays inspired by the history of Tate and its archive, and a dedicated schools entrance.

By far the grandest of the improvements made is the new Tate Members bar, situated in a circular balcony overlooking the rotunda. This section of the building has been closed since the 1920s, which seems a terrible shame as the view of the rotunda and staircase below and domed atrium above is quite beautiful. It is somewhat unfortunate that this is a view that many members of the public will still not have access to.

Tate Britain feels much more coherent now; it is easier to flow from space to space without jarring up against building works or a locked door. More work is planned for the future, particularly to refurbish the southwest galleries to allow more natural daylight to light the space (similar to the work completed in the southeast galleries in May).

For now, though, Tate Britain has been left to pause, to give visitors and staff alike a chance to breathe and enjoy their new space.

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Follow Sarah Jackson on Twitter @SazzyJackson.

Bar seating area underneath an arched ceiling.
Tate Member's Area above the Rotunda, Tate Britain© 2013 Helene Binet
Central spiral staricase descends to a white and black tarrazzo floor.
Lower level Rotunda, Tate Britain© 2013 Helene Binet
View of cafe seating area underneath a vaulted ceiling.
Djanogly Cafe, Tate Britain© 2013 Helene Binet
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