Above: A view across to the Neo Bankside block of flats. Credit: The Guardian.
In the Court of Appeal, the residents of Neo Bankside have again lost their case against Tate Modern. The owners of several apartments in the modernist glass-and-steel block had taken action seeking an injunction that would have required Tate to block-out or cordon-off any areas of their 10th floor viewing platform which allows a view into the flats of Neo Bankside. The private residents claim invasion of privacy by onlookers on the gantry. ("When our blinds are open and the viewing platform is in use, we are more or less constantly watched, waved at, photographed and filmed by people on the viewing platform.")
The judgement assumed that the law of nuisance was most applicable, 'despite the hundreds of years in which there has been a remedy for causing nuisance to an adjoining owner's land and the prevalence of overlooking in all cities and towns, there has been no reported case in this country in which a claimant has been successful in a nuisance claim for overlooking by a neighbour.'
As a researcher with an interest in the voyeuristic, this case has been fascinating. The original ruling and the appeal both found that the residents must accept being overlooked as a consequence of living in a flat with glass walls. The Appeal Court judge stated that, 'these properties [Neo Bankside] are impressive, and no doubt there are great advantages to be enjoyed in such extensive glassed views but that in effect comes at a price in terms of privacy.' The outcome finds in favour of, so to speak, the voyeurs. Following the ruling, any member of the public has every right to use the Tate gantry in order to look into the Neo Bankside flats. If the owners don't like being peered at, then it is up to them to defend themselves with blinds, privacy film, and so forth. The viewers on the platform have retained the freedom to gaze at whatever captures their attention without hindrance.
Of course, one potential response that could be carried on by the occupants of the flats, would be fighting back with intentional bodily exposure. In the TV show Friends, a man with a large belly lives opposite Monica and Rachel and is known to them as Ugly Naked Guy because of his obesity and tendency to roam his apartment unclothed. The man's presence--as seen through his windows--is something of an affront to the protagonists. His lack of self-consciousness and unappealing/unaesthetic appearance causes the onlookers to become appalled. The same approach in Neo Bankside could well cause outrage and disgust on the Tate viewing gallery. In other words, the most effective form of defence, for those in the flats, could be a decision to practice outright exhibitionism.
(26 February 2020)