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Jamie Fobert’s sunken gallery to surface at Tate St Ives in October

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Jamie Fobert Architects’ Tate St Ives 500m² extension wlll finally open on 14 October following unexpected delays caused by hitting a layer of hard blue elvan bedrock

It is 12 years since the architect was first appointed to the project – in 2005 – and six years since a site change necessitated a second competition. This saw Fobert reappointed in 2012, fighting off a strong field of proposals from Tony Fretton, AL_A, 6a Architects, DSDHA and Feilden Clegg Bradley Studios.

In the meantime, the cost of the project has risen from £12 million to £20 million – 95 per cent of which has been raised, according to Tate St Ives executive director Mark Osterfield.

The scheme also includes  a total refurbishment of  Evans & Shalev’s original 1995 building, the main galleries of which reopened on 31 March, with the provision of new learning spaces, in particular a glazed ‘sky studio’ set atop the original building.

The excavation of the elvan – which could not be blasted out due to proximity to an adjacent block of sheltered housing – was necessitated by the sinking of the 5m-high gallery space into the steep site, the roof of which is an in-situ concrete slab resting on 16.5m span, metre-deep concrete beams.

This will only be visible from above by its six granite-clad skylights, which will appear like ‘chambers’ as Fobert described them, up to three and half metres in height, echoing in their form the tin-mining ruins of the area and sit in a new public roof garden. This garden will be directly accessible from a new pathway down from a badly needed new car park for the town to the beach below.

Given the controversy surrounding the viewing platform at the Tate Modern extension, which overlooks flats at Neo Bankside, both the architect and Osterfield were quick to diffuse any suggestion that the sheltered flats would suffer the same fate. ‘You’ll only be able to see the top of their roofs from the garden,’ said Fobert.

He explained that the skylights were unusually canted slightly to the south – ‘to get a warm light into the gallery space’, yet due to their depth, no direct sunlight will fall into the gallery itself.

‘While in the original building the sea was very present, we wanted to make a different kind of space – open to sky and the light that St Ives is famous for’, said Fobert.

With the new gallery otherwise appearing to conform to the generic large neutral spaces that have become the ubiquitous default model for exhibiting art over the last few years, this handling of the light will go some way to making the new gallery bed down better with the more idiosyncratic spaces of the original Tate St Ives’ galleries.

 

The single new gallery, which can be flexibly divided into up to six smaller spaces, will double the present size of Tate St Ives, which previously has had to close for at least six weeks each year to enable the change-over of exhibitions. It will also enable it to keep its permanent collection on display while simultaneously accommodating large touring exhibitions, allowing it to fulfill its remit to reflect the rich art tradition of St Ives set against a wider, international context.

It also includes a three-storey art-handling and ‘collections care’ block, clad in glazed blue-green faience tiles, designed to reflect the light and blend with the sky, further scrambling the size of the otherwise mainly concealed extension.

At its top, art trucks will now be able to drive directly into a loading bay and deliver work down to the galleries below via a large goods lift similar in size to that at Tate Britain.

The first exhibition in the gallery will be a large survey show of the British sculptor Rebecca Warren, followed by an exhibition of women artists responding to the works of Virginia Woolf and a retrospective of the painter Peter Lanyon in summer 2018.

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