Of and For Turner Contemporary:
Writings on a Building

Introduction

How do you begin to write ‘on’, ‘about’ or ‘around’ a building? Do you first discuss the intent of the architect? Should you appraise it aesthetically, focusing only on its formal qualities?

What is it to describe its relation to its environment? When do you bring in those who inhabit it? How to describe the way it functions?

Turner Contemporary is positioned at the end of Margate Sands, and is highly attuned to the surrounding seascape: the north light fills its galleries and atriums, its view is of the sweep of the bay, there are the high winds to consider always, and its glass exterior reflects and dissolves into the movements of the sky.

While architecture criticism often focuses on a building only up until its construction is completed, this project was conceived as a way to think about Turner Contemporary’s actual use. Four years on from its opening, the gallery is still one of the most visited in the country. It is a unique building, distinctive but not imposing.

JMW Turner chose Margate as the setting for many of his paintings, and there is a continuing relationship between painter and town. The direct experience of seeing his paintings in the gallery, offers a new way of thinking about their colours, depth and movement, allowing the viewer to connect to his works inside and outside of the building.

These eleven texts respond to the gallery as a working building. Subjects range from the subtleties of the building’s white walls, to the day-to-day efforts of those who work to keep it that way, the shifts from one level to another, and the experience of looking at a Turner as part of a crowd.

Each considers the building in a particular time and context. They explore the gallery’s relationship to the town that supports it, cultivating a new reading of (and for) Turner Contemporary.