Visible from the Tate Modern, local residents win their case in British justice

The observatory of the Tate Modern allowed museum visitors to see inside the homes of this handful of residents, who sued the institution. Alex Yeung /

After being dismissed twice by the courts, the owners of accommodation visible from the museum’s observation tower finally won their case.

Owners of glass-enclosed apartments whose interiors are widely visible from a viewing platform at Tate Modern, London’s iconic tourist attraction, won a victory in their privacy-invasion legal battle against the museum on Wednesday. The Supreme Court of the United Kingdom ruled in favor of these owners of five apartments located in a luxury real estate residence a few meters from the Museum of Modern Art.

The Tate Modern’s 10th floor outdoor gallery, opened in 2016 and visited by hundreds of thousands of visitors each year, offers sweeping views of London, including a sweeping view of the fully glazed plaintiffs’ quarters. The platform places them “under constant observation (by visitors) for a good part of the day, every day of the week”Judge George Legatt said in announcing the court’s decision. “It’s not hard to imagine how oppressive it must be for any normal person to live in such circumstances”he added, comparing the situation of the complainants to animals “exhibits in a zoo”.

An abnormal “nuisance”

The Tate gallery is a “nuisance” for these people, who were regularly photographed by visitors, with some photos posted on social media, he insisted. This nuisance “goes well beyond anything that can be considered necessary or a natural consequence of ordinary and common use” of a museum like the Tate Modern, argued the judge.

The complainants had been rejected twice by the courts before this appeal to the Supreme Court, which will therefore allow their complaint to be examined again to decide on measures aimed at eliminating this nuisance. They propose, for example, the prohibition of access to part of the gallery or the installation of a device to mask the view of their apartments. Asked by AFP, the Tate Modern declined to comment on a case still in progress.

The gallery is currently closed, like other spaces in the museum which have not yet reopened with the Covid-19 pandemic. In 2019, a 17-year-old British teenager with a psychiatric disorder threw a six-year-old French boy from this observation platform, located on the tenth floor of the museum. He had pushed him over the railing and the child had fallen back onto a roof on the fifth floor, some thirty meters below, leaving him seriously handicapped. He was sentenced in 2020 to life for attempted murder.

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