The architect behind the new Tate St Ives
IN 1993, A NEW BUILDING opened in St Ives whose business was hard to identify. Where once there had been a gasworks facing Porthmeor Beach, now there was an ebullient double-height rotunda, which looked something like the entrance to a 1930s cinema. Inside was amphitheatre-style seating made in the local stone. One floor up, a curved corridor wrapped round it. This was the new Tate St Ives, a building designed by the local partnership of David Shalev and Eldred Evans, who had taken the region by storm in 1984 with their blusteringly postmodern Truro law courts.
Now, 24 years on, another building has appeared to its right, perched above the beach – a pavilion that emerges from the hill, clad in shimmering shiplap ceramic tiles that turn green and blue under rapidly changing Cornish skies. This is the latest extension to Tate St Ives, by Jamie Fobert Architects, which opens to the public on 14 October.
The two buildings, which have been seamlessly woven together inside the hill, have doubled the available exhibition space. Where before visitors coming for a full- on ex perience of the famous St Ives School often left feeling let down – where was the local work they’d come to see? The Bernard Leach pots, the dazzling Patrick Heron paintings? – today in the original galleries hangs the full complement of Alfred Wallis seascapes, Ben Nicholson abstracts, Barbara Hepworth sculp - tures and Peter Lanyon landscapes. Work by international St Ives-influenced names, such as the Dutchman Piet Mondrian, will appear too.
At the end of this original enfilade of rooms, intimate galleries built to service a previous era of daintier art, visitors now enter Fobert ’s spacious new addition. Connecting spaces lined with textured panelling give way to a square arch lined with limed oak that leads to a 483msq, column-free gallery washed with the inimitable blue light that brought artists to St Ives in the
first place. ‘That was a science project,’ says Jamie Fobert, pointing up to the six evenly distributed skylights. ‘ We worked with the engineers for a couple of years to get the amount of light right.’ When we go outside, they jut out of the ground by several metres, and Fobert has created a landscape of Cornish stone around them.
To make the new gallery connect to the old, Fobert excavated right into the hill; its roof a part of the landscape. ‘It was important to hide away much of the building,’ he says. ‘This is a community of 10,000. The last thing they needed was another Guggenheim, a big flashy icon at the edge of their town.’
Canadian Fobert set up his own practice in London in 1996, after cutting his teeth in the studio of David Chipperfield. He has won multiple awards for a series of ingenious individual houses, and created retail environments for a long list of fabulous names including Versace and Givenchy. But St Ives is his biggest step so far, and he certainly knows a thing or two about the community he is serving here. As we walk up and down the winding streets, with their fishermen’s cottages and fudge shops (surely the world’s highest concentration per capita), local people stop to ask him how things are going.
The opening is hotly anticipated. The Tate is important to the local economy and to the town’s identity. ‘The original building is very dear to people here. I hope they get to like mine as much,’ says the architect, for whom the project has been a long time coming.
Jamie Fobert Architects first won the competition to design the extension to Tate St Ives in 2005, with a scheme that stood proudly above ground and caused a lot of consternation about the loss of parking spaces in Barnoon car park.
‘This is a community of 10,000. The last thing they needed was another Guggenheim’
Previous page Architect Jamie Fobert. Above The £20 million Tate St Ives extension sits among the shops and homes overlooking Porthmeor Beach. Above right Six skylights jut out of the ground, surrounded by Cornish stone