New Switch House turns on a more family-friendly Tate

It’s been 12 long years since Tate Modern trustees agreed a new extension to the building, following unprecedented visitor numbers since its opening in 2000. Finally, new Tate Modern complete with its magnificent Switch House extension (designed by Herzog & de Meuron), opens to the public on Friday, yet Arts Aloud was lucky enough to get a cheeky sneak preview for you yesterday.

“But we all loved old Tate Modern!” I hear you say. Very true. So what should we expect from new Tate Modern? Well it’s even more family friendly for a start – music to my ears. Here’s how:

Even more space 

The new Switch House extension has increased the size of Tate Modern by 60%. More space means less stress for visiting parents, (big tick), but the increased space has also transformed the gallery into a variety of exciting new spaces, all designed to bring about more experiential and performance art (which we know are a firm favourite with fidgety younger visitors).

The Wow factor

Right at the top of the new 10-storey Switch House is a free viewing platform with 360 degree views across London, offering uninterrupted views of The Shard, St Paul’s Cathedral, The Walkie-Talkie building, a huge stretch of The Thames. You name it, it’s in this picture-postcard. A brilliant first lesson in London’s fabulous skyline for budding architects.

The Turbine Hall takes centre-stage

Aside from being the space where those visiting with children can take a breather, the Turbine Hall has always been the main event space. Expect to find even more unusual events and encounters here, such as the choral celebration of Tate Modern by 500 people from over 20 choirs this weekend. The addition of the neighbouring ‘Tanks’ at the base of the Switch House makes for a subterranean wonderland dedicated to live art, installation and film.

Galleries, collections and artist rooms

As well as the usual free collections which have been re-hung across the two sites, there are galleries and artist rooms to die for! Galleries with giant spiders (Level 4 – Louise Bourgeois), galleries with beaches and live parrots (Level 3 – Hélio Oiticica), galleries with suspended walk-through pavilions (Level 2 – Cristina Iglesias) and even galleries with real beds! (Level 2 – Ricardo Basbaum). There is also the new Start Gallery – a dedicated space for families and young people offering an introduction to modern and contemporary art. Personally, I was expecting more from this space in which even well-known favourites such as Henri Matisse felt a bit flat. If you weren’t old enough to do the activities and didn’t have a teacher or guide in tow, i’m pretty sure most children would be in and out in five minutes. It is, however, rescued by a brilliant installation by Olafur Eliasson which better supports Tate’s mission to bring art to life for a wider audience.

Have your say at the Tate Exchange 

Generously, the entire 5th floor of the Switch House has been given over to this ‘open experiment’ which will invite over 50 organisations to participate in Tate Modern’s creative process through events and on-site projects. Organisations will range from charities to universities, healthcare trusts and radio stations but all with a view to using art as a way of addressing wider issues in the world and creating a drop-in space for you to share your two-penneth’s worth.

And if this isn’t enough, the gallery is sticking two additional family ‘stakes’ in the ground! Firstly they are inviting 3000 school children from across the UK to preview on Thursday with Bob and Roberta Smith, then they are allowing children and families to completely take over this weekend (18th and 19th June), with choreographer Aya Kobayashi and sound artist Dan Scott encouraging visitors to explore using unique audio soundtracks. There’s also a range of pick-up activities and daily activities and make & do’s such as Paper Aesthetics; a chance to create your own mini model of the new Switch House building, adding to a growing collection over the course of each day.

Without a doubt, new Tate Modern is absolutely magnificent, an assault on the senses and an emporium of arts fun in the broadest sense. It is worth stressing, however, that although the space is very much now the domain of immersive and experiential art forms, there are still some areas where you will need to exercise caution. In the galleries for example, not all of the exhibits are well-marked by restrictive lines (such as Bourgeois’ giant spider) yet you absolutely can’t walk through or under this piece. Confusingly in the neighbouring gallery the suspended pavilion is fair game. This swap and change between ‘come and play’ and ‘stay away’ can make it a nervy navigation for parents, so check in with every gallery attendant on the rules of engagement before you play.

With such a huge space to navigate and lots of impromptu bits going on, you will also need to plan your visit carefully. Tate’s website is comprehensive, but isn’t great for search, so take some time to peruse the £1 map and if you can pick up the handy opening weekend guide (found in Time Out yesterday) then hold onto it tight! One thing is for sure – whether you randomly potter or mission-tick each gallery, new Tate Modern is sure to be an even bigger day out than it ever was before.


New Tate Modern opens to the public on Friday 17th June (10am-10pm) followed by an opening weekend of events and activities. 

Bankside, London SE1 9TG

Admission free, although featured exhibitions carry a charge

See website for details and performance times