Thursday, 14 April 2011

David Chipperfield, The Turner Contemporary, architecture at Sea in Thanet a bit of a ramble.

I was born in the same year as David Chipperfield and so I suppose there must be some common ground, I once worked for a different Chipperfield, who ran a fun fair. My main connection with Margate is that I was employed as an engineer working on the various sites owned by Associated Leisure sometime in the early 1970s. This was the firm that owned Dreamland, the Lido and most of the amusement arcades along what used to be known as Margate’s Golden Mile. I have always been fascinated by electromechanical and electronic control of machines and for a while it was amusement machines that interested me.

With this new building opening to the public at the weekend I feel I have some affinity with Margate, the architect and the building, I also have an interest in art and our local architecture, so here goes some sort of post.

Major public architectural structures on the foreshore in Thanet nearly all have an unusual history and The Turner Contemporary has already one of its own, most people will remember Snohetta and Spence's design and the prototype that failed its test when the sea washed it away. After this a much more practical approach to constructing a building on the foreshore was adopted, a proper professional flood risk assessment has been carried out for David Chipperfield’s Turner Contemporary so I is unlikely to be washed away, as Margate Pier was. Like it or not here in Thanet we have probably got it for a long time.

I know people have likened it to a shed, a gun emplacement and various other things, when I first saw the design drawings, the first thing that occurred to me was that it looks like a series of heads of K9 without ears. You can’t help what your mind does and perhaps it is best not to mention this sort of thing, but I don’t think it matters here as I don’t think the finished building looks like K9.

In a sense this weekends opening is the third opening of the Turner Contemporary in Margate, as it has previously opened in the old M&S building and The Droit House, lets hope it is a case of third time lucky. The two previous incarnations have seemed to me to be a bit underwhelming, attracting almost no interest at all. I have visited almost all of the exhibitions in both buildings and apart from the people working there I have usually been the only person looking at the exhibition.

With the Droit House I got the feeling that much of what was happening there was fake, the silly walks, the attempts to encompass local history into art which seemed to missing the vital ingredient, a local historian. Perhaps it was the ambience of the building, which is of course a fake itself, the original having been dispatched by Hitler.

Contemporary art and architecture is elitist, and there is a sense that the new building has been designed for the benefit of the elite inside it, from the outside it looks utilitarian, there is I agree some elegance to it when viewed from some angles, but there is no doubt the prime utility is for those inside.

There is also the sense that both contemporary art and architecture generates an emperor’s no clothes situation, this was particularly evident in the Droit House at some times, where there was a very real sense that the staff were being careful not to leave anything about that wasn’t supposed to be art that could be mistaken for art.

There is also a sense in seaside architecture that is intending to be something that it isn’t, the only other famous architect that I know of to design something that was actually built down on the Thanet foreshore was Stanley Davenport Adshead who designed Ramsgate’s Royal Victoria Pavilion, built in 1904. This was supposed to look like Little Theatre at Versailles, like the Droit House we can call this a fake, it was intended to be one from its first inception.

Well Ramsgate’s Royal Victoria Pavilion hasn’t succumbed to Hitler, hasn’t been washed away like the mock up of Turner 1, or the adjacent Margate Pier, but is has become a victim of circumstance, see

My understanding was that the new gallery was going to be coated in glass and glow in the sun, either this hasn’t worked, I haven’t seen it or the idea was dropped for some reason. Has anyone seen it glowing, or isn’t it supposed to?

I think all of the main Thanet blogs have been unkind about the whole idea of building this gallery, this is a quote from Thanet Life, probably Thanet’s oldest blog:

“Why the fiscally challenged planners at Kent County Council in conjunction with Thanet Council, believe that opening a gallery in a famous artist’s name, with none of his paintings on display, will suddenly transform Margate into a cultural Mecca and attract hordes of cultural day-trippers is anyone’s guess.”

Well they have managed one Turner and admittedly it is one of the few Turners not painted from life but based on a sketch by another artist, so once again it is a bit of self confessed fake.

We certainly haven't got what we first expected which was a gallery that looked like a huge pebble on the beach, perhaps the question here is not so much does it look like an art gallery? But will it look like an art gallery? If it becomes famous enough people will look at this shape and think, art gallery, if it fails to then I suppose they will continue to look at this shape and depending on who they are they will think, shed, gun emplacement, K9, this is all something to do with what art is about, that it is something that has changed people from seeing a particular representation of a can of soup and experiencing artistic appreciation instead of. What? Seeing a can of soup.

Just as a further note if you are getting a warning saying that this site has a virus on it today, you need to update your virus checker.  


  1. one thing that has always worried me about the whole project is the fact a director or is it chief exec was appointed about 12 years before the gallery opened, this has cost the local tax payer probably sometning in the region of £1 million pounds.... and both kent and thanet councils say they believe in value for money !!!!

  2. I wish all success to the Turner Contemporary - Thanet needs it.

    But I heard an alarming report today that up to 50 cars, some civic vehicles were given £70 parking fines for parking on the Harbour Arm which is apparently a privatly administered car park.

    So if you are going to the opening be careful where you park. Apparently the official car par for TC visitors is Trinity Square.

  3. 22:46 Don't know where you get your information but it is crap. Why not check before you go to print with such rubbish.

  4. Anyone see Brian Sewell on Meridian Tonight? Priceless.

  5. Brian Sewell... what a total bollock juggler, but for the first time I actually agree with him. A shed where shredded wheat should be made, absolutely priceless and sums up TC perfectly.
    Can you imagine the utter Boll***s that is going to be spouted out tomorrow when this £18m shed opens,they will be Knee deep in Bullshit as to how it will be the catalyst for a regenerated Thanet..... for god sake are these people real.
    An art gallery that generates no income, costs us all more money to maintain and which has overnight only served to highlight to the rest of the country just what a shit state this island is really in.... well done once again TDC, own goal number two, you really are as much a disgrace as your new art gallery.

  6. Sangeeta Bhabra summed it up: "That's all from Margit".

  7. 17:45 VP of the turner centre was appointed either 10 or 11 years ago the intial salary was £70K and as being employed by kcc probably a index linked pension, so if you add the 11 years salary and the index linked pension you will not be many shillings short of a million quid.

  8. Reading the comments one can but conclude that the good people of Thanet get preceisely what they deserve out of life.

    Think about it. Who elects the council, who fails to clear up after their dogs, who goes out flytipping, who moans about every regeneration proposal and who perpetually writes the place off in the local press and blogs. Why people from Thanet, of course.

    If attitudes changed the place might. There is an election for the TDC on 5th May. No doubt the turn out for it will be pathetic and the whingers will be back in the following week's locals regardless of who wins.

    Maybe it is not the council or the place that is pathetic but some of the people in it.

  9. Plenty of great coverage in the national media, from BBC to papers, today for Margate, so eat your eats out all you Thanet whingers. The Turner Contemporary has already done more to put the old place on the map than a dozen Iris Johnsons (perish the thought for one is bad enough) or Ice Rinks could.

  10. The only difference is that an Ice rink would actually create jobs and generate income to this area.
    In comparison the pathetic shed of an art gallery generates no income, and only serves to please a very small minority of the whole general public, who will be paying through their taxes to keep this white elephant supported and open.
    £18m you must be insane, exactly the same results could have been achieved by renovating one of the many empty establishments in margate, now that is REGENERATION in practice and not this shameful waste of our cash that will undoubtedly become a millstone around the neck of the council within 2yrs.

  11. Interesting comment, but how many more people work at an ice rink than at an art gallery? Anybody know?

    Mind you, as has been explained for the simple minded repeatedley, the use of the funds was not a choice option. It was not would you like an art gallery or an ice rink, but we want to make a grant for an art gallery which Margate can have. If you don't want it, then it goes elsewhere.

    Anyway, 13:34, just think how even more miserable your wretched existence would be if you did not have the Turner to moan about. You just go on enjoying your whinges whilst we appreciate the art.

  12. Is it really any wonder this Isle is in such a terrible state when you have utter crass stupidity as gifted by 13:59 !
    What a mindless self important narrow minded wally if ever there was one.Yes I do know how many more are employed by an ice rink than at a gallery, you would be suprised to know that it would be somewhere around 2 to 3 times the number employed by a gallery, having managed two former ice rinks in the UK i Know.

    Bathe in the short sighted glory of this you moron, within two years it will be no more than another empty space going to waste like so many others in Margate, mind you, you probably think that an empty shop is artistic, what you fail to see is the life story's behind these closed doors and the wrecked lifes that go with them.
    People of your arty type who think that if you dont appreciate the bollocks that is art, then you are in some way less educated or worthy of recourse, you could not be further from the truth.

  13. 17:54 when you have to resort to that kind of language and name calling just who is the moron.

    Actually, for the record, I am not an arty type, but can enjoy looking at what others, more artistic than I, can produce. Equally I would have enjoyed a Sea Life Centre which folk like you managed to drive elsewhere with your doomsaying some years back.

    As you are such an expert, and bully for you for being an ice rink manager (like wow!), how many people does the art gallery employ? How many people have got employment in the nearby pubs, cafes and shops whose livlihoods will become more secure from the gallery visitor spin offs? Don't be so negative and, in any event, as has been explained before, it wasn't a choice between an ice rink and an art gallery.

  14. I tend to agree with the sentiment stated earlier, if its a choice between this gallery or a leisure activity such as an ice rink, the ice rink would win every time as it has more appeal to more of the population.

    Margate looked good today. Lots of people out enjoying themselves. The town was alive. Much as I remember it from my childhood. The organisers have worked hard and kept their faith often against stiff opposition. It's still early days but so far, so good.

  16. But it wasn't a choice, 22:39, it was an art gallery, take it or leave it. Incredible how many people in Thanet cannot take on board an oft stated fact.


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