The Twentieth Century Society

Campaigning for outstanding buildings

40 Buildings Saved Bankside Power Station, now Tate Modern
Bankside Power Station, now Tate Modern Photo © Elain Harwood

40 Buildings Saved

1. Bankside Power Station

Architect: Sir Giles Gilbert Scott
Owners: Tate Modern
Location: Bankside, London


Tate Modern is a remarkable combination of old and new. The oil-fired Bankside Power station, encased in brick by Sir Giles Gilbert Scott, was built in two phases between 1947 and 1963, replacing an earlier installation and creating a more unified effect than at Battersea, with its single central chimney.


Power generation ceased in 1981. Listing was requested by the C20 Society  in 1987 (when post-1945 buildings became eligible), supported by Historic England. A second request for listing in 1992 was turned down and sudden demolition was a real threat.


In 1980, SAVE suggested possible new uses, but Southwark policy favoured industrial employment on the cleared site. In January 1993, the C20 Society led a visit to the interior.  One of the attendees, engineer Alan Baxter, was enthusiastic about conversion for cultural uses in this then-neglected part of London. He lobbied Francis Carnwath, then deputy-director of the Tate and charged with looking for a site for a new gallery of modern art. C20 was peripherally involved up to this point, supplying copies of the design drawings for the building. Since Francis was not allowed to enter the building by the owners, he went for the first time incognito with C20 Chairman Gavin Stamp who was filming there for the ‘One Foot in the Past’ series. An extraordinary sequence of events followed, in which local and national political viewpoints switched to favour this new use, an opportunity seized by Tate director, Nicholas Serota.


Tate took over the building in 1995 and commissioned Swiss practice Herzog and de Meuron to convert it into a gallery which opened in 2000. C20 was consulted during the design process and hoped that more of the original external symmetry would be retained, but the building was substantially saved, despite still not being listed.

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