Friday, 7 December 2007

Ziggurat City

The planned extension of the Tate Modern; note the dome of St Paul's in the background

This is the proposed design for the new Tate Modern gallery, to be built next door to the existing premises- the former Bankside Power Station, designed by Sir Giles Gilbert Scott. The new building is described by Dalya Alberge of The Times as 'a futuristic, higgledy-piggledy glass structure that features huge blocks protruding from a ziggurat'; the famous stepped temples of Mesopotamia, believed to be the dwelling places of the gods. One of the largest of these structures, of which very little remains, was the Marduk ziggurat of Babylon: the Etemenanki. (So now you know where Mr Adachi gets that name from.)

The new Tate perpetuates a long tradition of rebuilding wonders, particularly in London. The famous SIS Building (at 85 Vauxhall Cross) is one of the most famous, whose ziggurat design has seen it dubbed Babylon-on-Thames by locals. Construction of that building finished in 1995; a few years later, in 2004, the city was 'graced' with a project of equal audacity: the Swiss Re tower, or The Gherkin. This latter-day Babel, designed by the ubiquitious Norman Foster- he of the Millenium Dome and the U2 Tower- glories in one of the most resonant postal address in the whole of London: 30 St Mary Axe. (He also designed the Hearst Tower in New York City.)

Of course, this tradition is hardly new; being merely the latest manifestation of a dream which is easily three hundred and fifty years old and doubtless much older: the quest for the New Jerusalem. Its British 'wing', in the eighteenth century, was centred on the 'Invisible College' of Gresham, Boyle, Newton and, in particular, Christopher Wren; who gave the capital the building which still, to this day, encapsulates that Zionist aspiration more perfectly than any other. This, of course, is St Paul's Cathedral; the very building whose famous dome (inspired by the Dome of the Rock) peers out silently from the artist's impression above. (Deliberately off-setting the towering 'phallus' of the old Bankside power station; which, since, its revamp as the Tate Modern in the late 1990s, has been crowned with a 'swiss light.')

Coincidence? Or a very specific illustration of the 'scarlet thread' which unites the old and the new? According to Rachel Campbell Johnston, the new building 'harks back to the cube: the fundamental abstract art form and the cornerstone of our modern aesthetic... [which] echoes the jumbled picture planes of Cubism; of such great founding modernists as Picasso or Braque or Gris.'


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paul said...

I think the millenium dome was the work of Richard Rogers. A friend told me that the lead architect dressed head to toe in red during its creation. Though I can't confirm this, or its significance.

BTB said...

Hi Paul,

You are indeed correct. Thanks for pointing that out.

Rodgers was, apparently, Norman Foster's business partner at some point... And whilst the latter wasn't involved with the Greenwich fiasco, he was the principal architect of the cursed Wembley Stadium, and is leading the redevelopment of World Trade Centre Tower 2. (Is this, I wonder, in partnership with the Lower Manhattan Development Corporation; whose sinister corporate logo Jake Kotze disassembles here?)

The Freedom Tower, on the other hand, is being masterminded by Daniel Libeskind. Unsurprisingly, considering the culprits of the tragedy which prefaced the revamp,
Libeskind is an Ashkenazi Jew whose previous works include the Jewish Museum in Munich.

Nothing like keeping it in the family.


paul said...

Yeah, I knew they met at yale and were partners at the start of their careers and between them seem to have duopolised popular architecture (though terry farrell remains the scariest).
As for the domes lead architect's apparel - scarlet threads?