The glimmering darkness of the building's facades may give the new Jerwood Gallery in Hastings a faintly disappointing air of mute architectural stealth. Its form – a dark podium facing Rock-a-Nore Road, from which an oblong first storey rises on the beach side – doesn't signal the building's purpose. But the inside story is something else entirely.
The galleries' narratives of space, light, and outlooks might almost be a mini-me homage to David Chipperfield's exquisitely arranged galleries at The Hepworth, Wakefield. Even in the Jerwood's big, tough temporary exhibitions gallery – the opening show features Rose Wylie – the light quality and spatial ambience is excellent; so, too, is the unseen passive ventilation and heating system, which uses solar panels and 120m deep ground-source piles. The Jerwood is certainly not an art bunker and, at an all-up cost of £4m, it represents extraordinary value for money.
But on the hut nearest the gallery is a poster which announces: No Jerwood on the Stade – the Stade being the local name for the beach just behind the gallery. The Save Our Stade committee claimed the majority of fishermen and residents of Hastings Old Town were perfectly happy with the car and coach park that was on the Jerwood's site.
The council counter-claimed that the Jerwood could generate 100 jobs and millions in local earnings. The SOS committee said the Jerwood Foundation, which got the site for free, wanted a low-cost bunker in which to store its collection. "The Jerwood won't save the world. It's not salvation. But it can become part of the puzzle of change," says Hana Loftus, the Jerwood's architect, along with Tom Grieve.
Jerwood Gallery, Hastings, East Sussex, TN34 3DW (www.jerwoodgallery.org)