Mayor Sadiq Khan has promised to “embed culture in London’s planning system”. Speaking at the opening of the extension to the Tate Modern gallery, he said culture will no longer be an add-on, but an essential element in the capital’s development.
For too long culture has been a nice to have,” said Khan. “I have made culture one of the big things I want to define my time as mayor. Right up there with housing environment and transport.”
“It’s not just about bricks and mortar, as wonderful as our surroundings are today. It’s about realising the potential of people as well as places. To be a world city, London needs to support creative places and creative Londoners too.”
Khan has promised to create an infrastructure plan to increase public access to culture “in a way not other world city has ever seen before”.
He was speaking as the extension to the Tate Modern was officially opened. A 65 metre high block, named the Switch House, has been designed by architects Herzog & de Meuron to complement the existing former power station. With original expectations of visitor numbers being exceeded, the facility will enable more visitors to enjoy more of the Tate’s collections.
The project was approved in 2007, and construction started in 2010. Backing for the £260 million extension came from public and private backers, including £50 million from the government, and contributions from the GLA and Southwwark borough.
Khan’s plans include creative enterprise zones, subsidised artists’ studios, and affordable accommodation to attract those in the creative industries.
LPA Perspective: The Tate Modern has been a great tourist draw since it was established, with thousands finding their way to it across routes including the pedestrian bridge from the City. The extension will ensure that visitors can be accommodated across a greater floor area, and also give the Tate more space to display its collection and exhibitions.
The Herzog & de Meuron design builds on the industrial brick of the original building, while creating something new and interesting alongside the rectilinear block, which is of architectural merit of itself.
Khan’s vision for a more embedded cultural element within the capital is welcome. London fails where other cities do so much better – Paris has public art left, right and centre, while any visitor to Florence cannot but be astounded by the sheer volume of its statues.
Section 106 monies have regularly been used to commit developers to support cultural elements within their projects, while enlightened planning authorities have encouraged buildings with art as a key element of their facades. But with CIL has come a diminution of that ability. Many will be looking forward to hear more of Khan’s plans – and in particular, where the cash to fund his cultural infrastructure will come from.
The mayor’s promised support for culture and artists will surely bring a wry smile to Tracey Emin, whose bid to build a working home and studio in Tower Hamlets were turned down by the local planning committee – with a decision expected shortly from an appeal inspector.