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Privacy Lawsuit over Tate Modern’s Observation Deck Goes to Court

Since the opening of Tate Modern’s 211-foot-tall Blavatnik Building, formerly known as the Switch House, in 2016, it has been at the center of a dispute over privacy and public space. Designed by the Swiss architectural firm Herzog & de Meuron, the museum extension features an observation deck, consisting of an enclosed walkway on the building’s tenth floor that allows visitors to view the London skyline. However, in addition to the 360-degree views of the city, museumgoers are able to clearly see the residents of a luxury glass-walled apartment building adjacent to the institution going about their lives.

Angry over the invasion of privacy, four owners of the condominiums in the NEO Bankside building, completed in 2012, decided to sue the museum last year. They are seeking an injunction that would require the museum to block off the part of the viewing platform where visitors are able to see into the apartments or to erect a screen. On Friday, November 2, the High Court in London began hearing the case.

According to the New York Times, Guy Fetherstonhaugh, a lawyer representing the Tate’s board of trustees, told the court that the apartment owners want to “deny to the public the right to use the viewing platform for its intended purpose merely to give the claimants an unencumbered right to enjoy their own view.” The Tate has taken the stance that the problem presented by its unhappy neighbors can be solved with the installation of floor-to-ceiling curtains.

However, since the flats come with a minimum price tag of about $2.5 million, the residents do not want to have to buy curtains in order to have their privacy respected. Tom Weekes, a lawyer for the plaintiffs, told the court that his clients are being unfairly subjected “to an unusually intense visual scrutiny.” He claimed that one of the apartment owners had found a photo of himself that was taken from the viewing terrace on an Instagram account with 1,027 followers.

Fetherstonhaugh countered that the museum’s expansion actually increases the value of the apartments and that residents can’t “pick and choose” which aspects of the institution they like and dislike. The court case is expected to continue until Monday.