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Backstage at Tate Modern

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We all know by now that the number of visitors to the Tate Modern during its first year exceeded all expectations - more than 5.1 million. What is not generally known is the knock-on effect this success has had on staff numbers. Instead of the anticipated 150, about double that number have been employed at the gallery.

Last summer, Tate Building Projects decided it was time to reassess its 'backstage' staff facilities. It interviewed three practices, including de Metz Green on the strength of a building study covering Power Road Studios in Chiswick (AJ 12.10.00). 'They wanted a young practice that could engage with the day to day management issues of the building and get to know the staff, ' says Julian de Metz, who won the commission - Amit Green having decided to pursue earlier shared property developing interests.

The staff cafe was the first area to be addressed. It was too small: not only did site staff want to use it, but there were also visiting staff from other Tate branches. The acoustics were harsh and the original ventilation provision inadequate for the number of people using the cafe and the demands for hot food.

By relocating a locker room, de Metz was able to enlarge the space and provide two separate areas: a seating area and a restaurant, divided by a central island kitchen. The kitchen area contains microwave ovens for staff use; alternatively, staff can cook breakfasts to order or heat up pre-packed Tate restaurant meals.

The aim in the new seating area, says de Metz, was to provide 'places where you could fall asleep, without it feeling like a doss house'. He need not have worried - it resembles a very civilised college common room (post graduate), with comfort a top priority.

Sofas are 'well designed, not just hard-wearing' and some have 'chill out legs' where staff can stretch out after long shifts on their feet.

A large portion of the budget went on upgrading the ventilation to cope with numbers and gastronomic expectations. But this suited de Metz's approach. 'We wanted to come up with an aesthetic that was well within budget, ' he says. 'It was a question of setting up correct goals at the outset and not being too obsessed about materials.'

As a passionate admirer of Tate Modern, de Metz was committed to preserving the 'neutrality' of Herzog & de Meuron's gallery scheme, but he also wanted to give staff 'a visual respite from the main gallery, and to add colour, texture, reflection and sparkle'.

Colour comes in abundance. Sofas are upholstered in removable, bright blue covers, the resin floor is deep crimson and the kitchen fittings are bright yellow - the yellow picked up by the staff 's new yellow aprons.

Wall finishes give textural variations: inexpensive cork tiles (good for acoustic insulation) on partitions and needle gunned finish on structural concrete walls, revealing a glistening, rough aggregate.

Polished metal screens over redundant wall openings, white Barrisol fabric panels suspended from the ceiling and Halogen spots, create sparkle and reflection. In the restaurant, stretched over the central tables and catching the light reflected from the windows, the Barrisol panels produce a strong, linear effect which echoes the comradely atmosphere of a Routiers.

The cafe is now a far more popular place.

Curators hold informal meetings here, individuals curl up with books and friends chat informally. The Tate wanted the space to be 'disarming', says de Metz, which is what it is.

Changes to the Clore Education Centre formed the second major part of the brief.

The centre is on one side of the Turbine Hall, at the lower entrance level, and its northern west-east axis doubles as a busy circulation route. Hordes of noisy school children flow into this space throughout the day. They need a space where they can calm down and prepare for their visit to the galleries. Previously, explanatory panels were fitted along the circulation route where it was impossible for children to view them because of the flow of staff at their backs.

Information panels are now mounted on the eastern inner wall; they cover the main gallery themes - Landscape, Still life, History and Nude.A series of large, folding cupboards on wheels act as a moveable barrier between the 'corridor' and the children's area. The cupboards open like hinged screens to form a continuous wall, giving the children much greater visual privacy. The cupboards also provide locker space, freeing a small recess close to the entrance for use as a quiet corner where children can relax on bean bags.

Every opportunity has been snatched by de Metz to calm the acoustics in the Clore Centre. Photographs on the cupboard doors were printed onto perforated fabric, mounted on acoustic backing material. The reproductions illustrating the information panels are printed on the same material. At present, the curtains blocking off the view of Munoz' installation Double Bind in the Turbine Hall, act as an added sound baffle, but these will be removed when the installation changes and noise levels may rise again.

de Metz worked with the Tate's existing colour scheme in the centre - purple on the corridor wall and orange resin flooring. A vibrant 'welcome' sign, high up on the inner wall, uses a different colour from the Tate's standard colour range for each letter. It is the work of Holmes Wood, resident graphics designer at Tate Modern.

de Metz has been engaged to look at possible improvements to curators' offices on Level 2, where again staff numbers have exceeded original estimates. This, says de Metz, is typical of the Tate's approach to its building and staff:

'As visitors continue to flock to Tate, it wants to ensure that staff facilities are kept in line with the changes seen and enjoyed by the public so that not only is it a fantastic place to visit, but also a fantastic place to work.'

CREDITS CLIENT Tate Building Projects ARCHITECT de Metz Architects: Julian de Metz, Paul Forbes, Ben Knight, Cristina Florit, Jose Gutierrez STRUCTURAL AND SERVICES ENGINEER Arup GRAPHIC DESIGN Holmes Wood Consultancy QUANTITY SURVEYOR Davis Langdon & Everest CONTRACTOR Mountfield Building Group CONSTRUCTION MANAGER Schal International Management SUBCONTRACTORS AND SUPPLIERS CAFE floors Flowcrete Industrial Flooring; ceilings Barrisol Stretch Ceilings (UK); joinery John Russell Architectural; kitchen equipment Hallmark Kitchens; fixed tables Jasper Morrison, David Design;

soft furniture Twenty TwentyOne, Modern Furniture Retailers;

lighting Thorn Lighting; cork Siesta Cork Tile CLORE EDUCATION CENTRE photography to storage units Nick Turpin; mobile storage units John Russell Architectural;

acoustic panels Preform UK

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