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The Tate and a question of taste

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Taste, the new bistro at the Tate Gallery, Liverpool, is part of a recent redevelopment of the southern block of the building by Michael Wilford & Partners. Although the scheme also includes important gallery and administration improvements, Taste's crucial role is in creating the more open and welcoming image sought by the gallery, in keeping with its growing popularity: 500,000 people visit the Tate each year and this figure is expected to double.

Formerly confined to a balcony at the back of the entrance area, the cafe (upgraded to bistro status) is now in a large room at the front of the building. It gives visitors approaching from the car park at the south end of the Albert Docks their first glimpse of the gallery interior through a fully glazed facade, formerly an opening screened off behind a wall of aluminium panels.

Curved aluminium powder-coated panels from the original balcony have been reassembled to form balustrading to a new oval-shaped mezzanine over the main bar, 'a little bit like a ship in a bottle', says project architect Alison McLellan. A gap in the panels frames the stairs - facing the approach from the bookshop - and the entire structure, stairs and mezzanine slab, are supported by a steel I-beam cradle, hung off 'stirrups' on the existing cast iron columns. The mezzanine deck is in oak, with a 'runway' of recessed floor lights leading to an upper-level bar. Lighting below the mezzanine counter reflects off the profiled stainless-steel panels on the inner surface of the balustrading, similar to the cladding panels on the front of the main bar.

Opaque glazing to the large arched window openings in the rear wall sheds a subtle light, obscures a delivery yard, and focuses attention on the view of the docks. The floor is paved in the original York stone flags, and earlier white paintwork has been left on the walls and vaulted brick ceiling to relate to the white gallery spaces. Steel chairs are from Italian manufacturer Baleri Italia and have leather upholstery, custom-dyed in the Tate's blue and orange colours to match the mezzanine cladding.

The scheme also provides administrative and educational facilities, a new sculpture and temporary-exhibition gallery, a remodelled entrance and a new shop, with the old shop turned into a hospitality room for the Friends of the Tate in the North. The £7 million cost was partly met by a hlf award of £3.8 million.

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