Harry Perrin discusses the value of quiet spaces

Alumni perspective

Before I became a lawyer, I worked in art galleries. Before that, I studied history of art. And before that, I found direction and inspiration in the quiet contemplative spaces of the art galleries of St Ives – galleries like the Tate, one of whose architects (along with Eldred Evans), David Shalev, died in January 2018. 

I've associated the Tate building with the town of St Ives ever since I first went there. 

St Ives
St Ives

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.

Harry Perrin took his Graduate Diploma in Law at the University in 2009–10.