Tuesday22 August 2017

Chipperfield’s Turner Contemporary is no oil painting

From: Amanda Baillieu’s blog

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I almost fell off my bike with shock last weekend when what I mistakenly thought was a half finished hotel complex turned out to be Margate’s long awaited Turner Contemporary

David Chipperfield, who had the difficult job of taking over the project after an earlier scheme was abandoned, says the new building that will open next April “will look out to the sea, connect itself to the town and capture the same unique light that inspired Turner”.

David Chipperfield

David Chipperfield’s design for the Turner Contemporary

Architects do like to make sweeping claims to persuade clients and planners that their vision is the right one but they should at least bear some relation to the truth.

True, it does, “look out to the sea” but that’s hardly very difficult. The building is right on the seafront, but I can’t quite see how a building that’s been plonked on the town’s best bit of real estate will “connect itself to the town” which cowers in its shadow.

And while the CGIs show the light bouncing off the building’s pearly cladding to evoke the spirit of  JW Turner, in the flesh it looks flat and charmless and cheap.

The architect has admitted that the budget was squeezed because so much had been lost in the debacle, but sadly this does not mean the building has got smaller. It’s massive. Leaving aside the matter of what an earth they’re going to put in it, since the centre has no collection of its own, did it really have to be raised on a platform to protect it from sea-swell flooding?

The connection to the sea was why Snøhetta and Spence’s design was chosen first time round. Yes, it was wildly impractical, possibly too expensive, and a bit mad, but the idea that visitors would experience the sound of the sea as it crashed  against the building’s sides, much like Niemeyer’s Niteroi art gallery, was brilliant.


Snohetta’s design for the Turner Contemporary

We’re entering an era in which we’ll have to be grateful for anything that’s not a front line service, and arguably Margate needs something to tempt people there, but will this be it? People won’t remember the Snøhetta design but I can’t help feeling that they should because only then will they realise what’s been lost.



Readers' comments (4)

  • Without detracting from Snohetta and Spence's design, which was admirably bold, the comparison with Niteroi is a little misleading. It is at the top of a cliff overlooking the sea, not submerged in and subject to its forces. Both 'iconic' perhaps but otherwise quite different.

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  • You answer your own question 'yes, it was wildly inpractical' and it certainly was too expensive. So it definitely wasn't the right proposal for Margate. In fact the shambles left in its wake could make it a dereliction of an architect's duty of care.

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  • having lived near margate and visited the town frequently, seen the design and build throughout the process, i feel it is mightly unfair to describe it as a "half finished hotel complex." infact, the "wild sweeping claims" are actually very true, and there is a distinct connection with its site, and sea. The light itself enters the building at various points offering creating exciting interior spaces that interact visually as well as metaphorically with with sea, the light, and Turner's work.
    This development is exactly what Margate needs, the sea front area surounding the site is already becoming a nicer area, with new developments and refurbishments. And i think that Chipperfields design sits in its locallity very well, offering a link between the town and the sea, being both functional (something the original design lacked) and quite beautiful in its simplicity.

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  • Admittedly I haven't seen the building in progress, but I went to an exhibition held at the site two or three years ago in which Chipperfield's early designs were presented not long after the Snohetta debacle. The exhibition made quite an impression on me, as the plans and images were so rough... I thought it was great, I really got the feeling that rather than trying to wow everyone with an unachievable image, the team was quietly and slowly working with the site and the program, with the aim of making an un-iconic but thoughtful building. I for one am looking forward to going back to Margate to see it when it opens. And saying that the town cowers in its shadow seems a little odd, Margate has never struck me as the cowering sort...

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