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Tate St. Ives, Cornwall, Jamie Fobert, Hufton+Crow

Under the distinctive light of the Cornish sky: Tate St. Ives

The distinctive light and colours that characterise in St. Ives, Cornwall, on England's southwest coast were already drawing painters and sculptors to the small town in the 19th century. Artists like William Turner and later on Ben Nicholson and Barbara Hepworth were instrumental in the development of the former fishing village into a centre for painting, sculpture and literature.

In 1993, a place was provided in St. Ives for art produced in the town when an outpost of London's Tate Gallery was built in a design by Eldred Evans and David Shalev. The Brutalist-postmodern building with its striking rotunda presents itself on a cliffside directly overlooking Porthmeor Beach. Originally designed for 70,000 visitors, it had a hard time handling the influx of 250,000 visitors a year, and so plans were drawn up to provide it an extension.

The architect Jamie Fobert found the jury's favour in the respective competition, which focussed on creation of the largest-possible volume at the site.  The new gallery is completely ensconced in the granite bedrock in order not to block views of the sea from neighbouring houses, to also fit in with the picturesque townscape and finally to avoid an iconic architectural effect. A further objective was to create a seamless transition between the old and new buildings so that visitors would not notice thresholds on the circular tour of the galleries.

The new 600-square-metre and five metre-high exhibition hall is column-free and topped by a massive concrete ceiling incorporating 1.5 metre-deep beams that span the width of the gallery. Six large skylights diffuse the Atlantic light and guide it downwards to illuminate the artworks in optimum fashion.  To meet differing requirements, the restrained and simple room can be divided into six smaller spaces as required.

The roof of the new gallery is publicly accessible. Featuring a set of stairs, benches and local plants, it serves nearby residents and visitors as a place for passing the time, and at the same time forms a counterpart to the graveyard over the way.

Offices, storage rooms that had been lacking so far and a freight elevator that finally makes it possible to transport large-scale artworks into the museum are all accommodated in the administration section, clad in a skin of shiplap ceramic tiles with a blue-green glaze.

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