Tate St Ives is a curious constructing. Opened almost 25 years in the past in what was then a struggling, barely shabby, bohemian place on the edge of England, it was a grand blast of dazzling white postmodernism, an architectural model that was already wanting a bit of passé at the time. Backed into the hillside above the broad sands of Porthmeor Seashore and dwarfing the small homes round it, it appeared out of scale and out of place amongst the fishermen’s cottages and internet workshops, the scrappy housing and the winding lanes.
However maybe its architects, Eldred Evans and David Shalev, perceived the potential of this place higher than the establishment itself. That unusual cylindrical portico that appears like a cross between communist constructivism and an oligarch’s Crimean getaway (and which really echoes the fuel-holder that previously occupied the website) was at all times too grand for the projected 70,000 annual guests. It now attracts virtually 1 / 4 of one million a 12 months and appears one way or the other to have anticipated that success, a self-fulfilling prophecy.
The saga of its £20m expansion appeared interminable. It was a course of begun in 2002 and which noticed modifications in the website, measurement and its prominence however the Canadian-born, London-primarily based architect, Jamie Fobert, has remained steadfastly connected and the present incarnation of the design dates solely from 2012, making it a surprisingly fast project.
The lengthy-awaited result's a refined scheme that doubles the quantity of gallery house and radically shifts the nature of the artwork that may be displayed. The unique constructing was supposed predominantly to indicate the comparatively compact works of the St Ives artists and it wanted to shut each time a brand new exhibition was put in. The size of modern artwork has, in the meantime, hypertrophied in order that these authentic galleries appear severely undersized. The brand new extension addresses that downside. After which some.
A really massive single new gallery is a large distinction to the small, virtually domestically scaled present galleries. It has been constructed into the rock beside the authentic constructing in order that two sides of the room are retaining partitions and it's, successfully, subterranean. However that is no cavern. Six room-sized rooflights give the curious impression of one other storey above the concrete beams that span the house. Quite surprisingly they scoop a southern (somewhat than the extra ordinary northern) mild into the gallery however it's filtered, muted and, on the day I visited, stole lots of the beautiful silvery Atlantic mild from the skies.
The size of the roof lights (or “chambers” as the architect calls them), makes this excessive-ceilinged gallery really feel even loftier: the totems of Rebecca Warren’s sculptures regarded simply at house in a approach that might have been unimaginable in the older galleries. That is a chic and, I believe, altogether surprising room. It's, surprisingly, connected solely by a single nook, a form of hinge, to the major constructing, although a classy sleight of hand ensures you're by no means actually conscious of the shift in the plan. The unique architects, Evans and Shalev, had been recalled to transform their very own constructing, filling in a round courtyard with an training house now capped with a conical roof. The avoidance of having one other architect intrude with their concepts has paid off. There is no such thing as a sense of any of the elements being in battle with each other, although they're radically totally different in model, scale and architectural method. The curving vitrine of St Ives work, somewhat like one thing from a 1930s seaside panorama, may hardly be in larger distinction to the nonetheless, stripped modernity of the new gallery.
Fairly how totally different is evident when the constructing is seen from the seashore or the city. Fobert has made each effort to compress the constructing so as to not impinge on the skyline or the views. What was to have been the museum’s website, alongside the seafront, has now been stuffed in with a row of sea-view social housing — it may be tough to recollect on this city of 60 artwork galleries that that is nonetheless one of England’s most disadvantaged areas. That the gallery doesn't dominate the entire seafront has helped, I believe, to weave it extra convincingly into the city material, making it a extra pivotal half of the place but additionally engendering extra of a shock when the new gallery is lastly revealed.
The hillside website has allowed the architect to open up the roof as public house. The roof, now planted with native species and with these cumbersome roof lights poking by way of, turns into a curious city panorama, a unusual discovery that appears like a discover, a secret backyard virtually. If the new gallery is self-effacing, it's not invisible. It’s a somewhat blocky construction, low slung however clearly there. It's clad in terracotta panels of the most seductive color. Every one is subtly totally different however they veer between yellow, inexperienced and blue, virtually precisely mirroring the shades of the sea with the sand displaying by way of. They're actually fairly attractive, at the very least from up shut. From afar the construction seems to be a bit of clunky, a bit of like Caruso St John’s Nottingham Up to date, virtually as if making an attempt to make a advantage out of an obstinately practical type set into the hillside.
Fobert, who can also be at present designing an extension of Cambridge’s Kettle’s Yard and the Bloomsbury retreat Charleston, is evident-eyed about the standing of his personal constructing. “In 20 years’ time,” he tells me, with a wry smile, “I count on the authentic constructing might be hailed as a masterpiece and mine as an aberration.” Even in the slowest of the arts, structure, trend strikes quick. However for the second these two radically totally different buildings coexist, the postmodern beside the most fashionable, and the constructing itself superbly bridges a era in artwork and structure.
Pictures: St Ives TV; Dennis Gilbert