Designed by Sir Giles Gilbert Scott, the building is brick-clad steel, 200 m long with a substantial central chimney of 99 m. The height was limited to less that that of St Paul's Cathedral on the opposite side of the river.
The station was commissioned following a power shortage in 1947 and Scott's design was completed and accepted within a year. There was strong local opposition. Construction work was in two phases and was not completed until 1963. The western portion of the building was completed first, generating power from 1952. The final structure roughly divided the building into three - the huge main turbine hall in the centre with the smaller boiler room to one side and the switching room to the other. The oil-fired station had four generators. Rising oil prices made the station uneconomic and it was closed in 1981.
The £134 million conversion to the Tate Modern was designed by Jacques Herzog and Pierre de Meuron. Redundant plant was removed in 1995 and the conversion was completed in January 2000. The most obvious external change is the blocky two-storey glass extension on one half of the roof. Much of the internal structure remains, including the cavernous main turbine hall - which retains the overhead travelling crane. A substation is still on-site.
Scott's other London power station is at Battersea and is widely considered the more iconic design with its four towers. Battersea was proposed for the Tate modern but financial constraints and less delapidation meant the smaller Bankside building was chosen.