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Olcayto: Caruso St John's Tate Britain is Postmodernism 2.0

Rory Olcayto asks whether the Caruso St John’s Tate Britain revamp could be the future of British architecture

Caruso St John’s Tate Britain is one of three essential projects this year changing how architects engage with the past. Like Witherford Watson Mann’s Astley Castle, and Urban Splash’s Park Hill retrofit, the Thameside museum remodel wilfully blurs the line between old and new.

‘I think for our generation, this distinction between new and old, is less interesting than it was to previous generations’ Adam Caruso says of the look and feel of his studio’s work at Tate Britain. With partner Peter St John he favours the ‘enormous ambiguity’ of daring you to find the join. The basement for example, its arches and vaults, they could’ve been there for years.

Somehow the new stuff feels timeless

Somehow the new stuff feels timeless, like the beautiful new rotunda staircase, a polished concrete smart-deco set-piece, with jazzy look and feel derived from a fish-scale patterned floor. Caruso St John know the old building inside out. But then they did spend a whole year drawing it. Yet the best new space - the restored rotunda gallery - is a private members bar. That’s to be expected when its mostly been paid for by private donors. With government subsidies on the slide expect land grabs like this will be typify the cultural sector.

The new architecture is so deeply informed by what’s already there that a dialogue with James Stirling’s unloved 80s’ extension was inevitable. ‘The Clore was very important in its time [although] there was a different attitude to the way things were built then,’ says St John. ‘That generation were less concerned that we are with the nature of materials. But this was the generation that first started to show people how history might be used again in contemporary architecture - so there is a connection’. Is this the future of British architecture? Sure. It’s called Postmodernism 2.0. Or how about just bloody good?

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