Art of the view: Tate Modern and the privacy of its neighbours

Posted on: December 6, 2018 by

When Tate Modern opened its new extension in the summer of 2016, the Blavatnik Building, the art world applauded and celebrated the new space which allows for increased permanent and temporary exhibition space, another restaurant as well as education rooms. However, there is now a more contentious side to this building.

The north-facing view from Blavatnik Tower at Tate Modern, towards the City of London (© Ana-Maria Herman).

The building has a large wrap-around terrace which offers panoramic views over London. It appears that this viewing terrace played an important role in the determination of Tate Modern’s planning application with Southwark Council for the extension. The terrace offers views of south London, a rather rare viewpoint as generally it is the north bank with St Paul’s and The City that is seen from other terraces. Unfortunately, immediately adjacent to the Blavatnik Building and therefore in full view from the terrace is a section of NEO Bankside, a large development of flats. The residents of these flats in 2017 filed suit, arguing that the viewing terrace allows for a breach of their privacy: Tate visitors can allegedly see straight into their properties. They are arguing that this viewing platform creates a state of “constant surveillance”. Additionally, this means that the flats no longer “provide a safe or satisfactory home environment for young children”.

NEO Bankside, built by architects Rogers Stirk Harbour + Partners is characterised by each of the flats having large floor-to-ceiling windows, making the inside of their flats easy viewing for visitors of Tate Modern. While Tate Modern has put up signs requesting that viewers respect the privacy of the nearby residents, it seems these are largely ignored. One resident counted 84 people looking into his flat over a 90 minute period and has also found a picture of himself on Instagram that had been posted to 1027 followers. The residents are seeking an injunction to prohibit people from being able to see into their flats from the terrace; as such they would like Tate Modern to put up a barrier.

Tate Modern’s previous director, Nicholas Serota, suggested the residents of the flats buy net curtains. The residents on the other hand offered to pay for a screen to be put up on part of the viewing platform. As all attempts to resolve the issue have failed, many residents feel the issue should now be decided by the courts. The issue is raising a variety of both legal and factual considerations. The construction of NEO Bankside began in 2009, at the same time the revised proposal for the Tate Modern extension was approved by Southwark Council. This proposal included the viewing platform in question. It appears the developers of NEO Bankside did not object to the proposal put forward by Tate Modern. However, since the developers are not residents of the building they would necessarily have taken a different view of the plans. As such, the residents in question argue that they have not had any effective opportunity to object to the viewing platform until it opened.

Under English law there is no ‘right to a view’. However, this concept usually applies to people objecting to a new construction. Whether Tate Modern can successfully argue for access to its view and that this need is greater than the privacy of the residents remains to be seen. For the moment the residents will have to wait for the judgement.

In the meantime artist Max Siedentopf has installed 12 sets of binoculars on the viewing terrace. He says this is to help Tate Modern visitors enjoy the museum’s greatest attraction: the view of NEO Bankside! Siedentopf believes that more people visit the Tate Modern for the view than for the exhibitions, and so he believes he is just giving them a helping hand. When asked by Artnet news how he got permission to install these binoculars, he replied it was more a case of “don’t ask for permission, ask for forgiveness”. Voyeurism has always been a popular topic explored by artists: as amusing as this one may be, it remains unlikely to help Tate Modern keep its view.