Tate Britain infused with Tate modern

In collaboration with John Morgan studio, our work with Tate Britain had two phases: the refurbishment of the original galleries on the Main Floor and the opening of Caruso St John’s rotunda at the Millbank Entrance. 

Tate Britain is the national home of British art from 1500. The first exhibition in the new galleries was the chronological rehanging of the permanent collection. Penelope Curtis, museum director responsible for the project, described the achievement of it. ‘What seems historical fades into the modern and into the contemporary. I hope you can have an experience of the building and of the collection as one walk through British Art.’ 

1.5 million people visit Tate Britain every year. Our task was to help their journey and pick up the theme of craftmanship and deep understanding of what this building is about. 

Hand painted, lacquered, gold leaf numbers mark the date thresholds to the rooms of the chronological hang. Wall mounted schematic guides illustrate where you are in the chronology adding to the sense of moving through time. Made of brass, they pick up the marble scallop patterned shapes of the rotunda. 

The gallery wall colours are from the 1897 Sidney Smith specification. We developed a captioning style that uses angled, silkscreen printed plates which match the gallery paint exactly. 

Two fonts differentiate the permanent facilities (which do not change) and temporary collections. We used a stripped back approach throughout. The original building is 1897 with additions in 1979, 1981 and the 2013 Millbank development. 

To achieve consistency in this inconsistent space we designed graphic panels mounted on freestanding anodised aluminium frames. They speak Tate. And although it’s Tate Britain they fit seamlessly. Modern and at home in the building.

The whole project was an expression of old and new to achieve a quality of timelessness. 

Every choice we make has a site specific or sense of place rationale in addition to the functional direction and description purposes. Even without the back story the selections make visually intuitive sense. 

A most dramatic story is told by the shrapnel scars we found behind the original Millbank Entrance sign. We chose to leave them uncovered to tell their story of strife, survival, continuity.