Those who recall Nicholas Serota's stinging criticism of Philip Gumuchdjian's designs for the 32-storey residential 'Tate Tower' may be a little surprised at the latest chapter in Tate Modern's expansion plans (see pages 10-11). Having warned that 'a very tall building so close to Tate Modern's main entrance will inevitably diminish the quality and value of the space for millions of visitors' the Tate director famously declared that it would be like 'building a tower block in the forecourt of the British Museum'. Evidently, he has no such qualms about jamming a multistorey deconstructed pyramid against the Bankside building's historic walls.
The rationale is that this is no ordinary structure, but an anti-architecture which exists to celebrate, rather than detract from, Gilbert Scott's Neo-Classical Goliath. While the existing building houses art on its oh-so-solid walls, the free-form glass extension represents a shifting world where art is something to be engaged with, listened to, talked about, watched. The structure itself, architect Herzog & de Meuron explains, is a 'work in progress' whose projecting cubes can be interpreted both as 'the erosion of the pyramid in its entirety' and as 'a pyramid in the process of emerging'. The fragmented form 'means that we will be able to make modifications through to the very end of the design process without affecting the basic character of the building'.
As the Architecture Foundation faces criticism over the latest revisions to Zaha Hadid's designs for its headquarters (see letters, page 20), and the Tate Tower hits the dust ( www. ajplus.co. uk/news), you have to admire such an audacious public relations coup. Serota and his architects have achieved the impossible: a grandiose building project presented as a piece of ephemera; a project which can be value engineered or reduced in scale without any loss of face. It's a shame they haven't been as clever about the design.