I’ve moved slowly and contentedly through its geometric spaces without feeling any pressing inclination to learn more about its architects or study their other buildings. I did a stint of work experience in the gallery’s education department as an undergraduate, but found the job – which included running beach art workshops for children – too busy, too noisy for my aptitude. The highlights of my days there were when I was timetabled to invigilate in the galleries, a job which essentially entails looking after the art and the visitors. I spent large stretches sitting among the sculptures and paintings of the towering figures of British modernism, people-watching. I had a handful of other invigilating jobs during my degree and after graduation. I found they combined well with study or other jobs as they were low in stress and rich in thinking time.
It was as a law student some years later that I first set foot in another of Shalev’s and Evans’ buildings: the Truro law courts. Again, waiting and watching. Waiting for the usher to call the case, for the judge to make a decision. Waiting my turn. I watched cases from the public gallery as a student, from behind counsel as a trainee lawyer and – during a period of work experience with a judge, known as marshalling – from the bench. As a second-year trainee, and then as a junior solicitor, I became more involved in the cases myself, both as part of a team (with the client, the barrister, the senior solicitor) and latterly on my own.
I observed throughout this time that it was in the more muted spaces of the building – the airy lobby, the labyrinthine courtyard, the numerous side-rooms – that real progress was made: we reached decisions, we improvised solutions, we struck deals. In this age of bluster and show, it was incredibly valuable to work in a building which steers you towards its quiet spots; to the conclusion that the meat of the work could be done in contemplation, reflection, thoughtful conversation.
It was an important lesson for a junior lawyer, but it was one I’d first learned as an arts student, back in the Tate.