Essential Architecture-  London

The Tate Modern Bankside Power Station


Sir Giles Gilbert Scott, Herzog & de Meuron


south bank of the Thames


1947-63, closed 1981. Museum 2000.


Art Deco 


brick-clad steel, 200 m long, with a substantial central chimney of 99 m


Utility, Gallery
  Bankside Power Station after conversion to the Tate Modern, from the Millennium Bridge
Bankside Power Station is located on the south bank of the Thames in the Bankside district of London. Since 2000 it has been used to house the Tate Modern art museum.

Designed by Sir Giles Gilbert Scott, the building is brick-clad steel, 200 m long, with a substantial central chimney of 99 m. The height was limited to less than that of St Paul's Cathedral on the opposite side of the river.

The station was commissioned following a power shortage in 1947 and Scott's design was completed and accepted within a year, despite strong local opposition.

Construction work was in two phases and was not completed until 1963. The western portion of the building was completed first and started generating power in 1952. The final structure roughly divided the building into three - the huge main turbine hall in the centre, with the smaller boiler room to one side and the switching room to the other. The oil-fired station had four generators. Rising oil prices made the station uneconomic, resulting in its closure in 1981.

For many years Bankside Power station was at great risk of being demolished by developers. Many people campaigned for the building to be saved and put forward suggestions for possible new uses. An application to list the building was refused.

In the spring of 1993 the building's fate looked doomed, contractors had already knocked a large hole in the side of the building and started removing much of the redundant plant. The BBC television programme 'One foot in the Past' focused on the building's impending threat. The reporter Dan Cruikshank gave an impassioned plea for the building to be saved.

In April 1994 the Tate Gallery announced that Bankside would be the home for the new Tate Modern. In July of the same year an international competition was launched to select an architect for the new gallery. In January 1995 Jacques Herzog and Pierre de Meuron of Herzog & de Meuron were announced as the winning architects.

The £134 million conversion to the Tate Modern started in June 1995 with the removal of the remaining redundant plant. The conversion was completed in January 2000. The most obvious external change is the blocky two-story glass extension on one half of the roof. Much of the internal structure remains, including the cavernous main turbine hall, which retains the overhead travelling crane. A substation taking up the southern third of the building remained on-site, and owned by the French power company EDF Energy. In 2006, EDF announced that they would be releasing half this holding back to the museum.

Scott's other London power station is at Battersea and is widely considered a more iconic design, with its four towers. Battersea Power Station was proposed for the Tate Modern but due to financial constraints and less dilapidation the smaller Bankside building was chosen.

Many episodes of British television, particularly science fiction series that have required industrial backdrops, such as Red Dwarf, were filmed at the station.