The Brits Who Built The Modern World

Sainsbury Centre for the Arts

Built

1977

Location

Sainsbury Centre for the Visual Arts, University of East Anglia, Norwich

The Sainsbury Centre for the Visual Arts features all the key ideas of the High Tech style that architect Norman Foster developed in his other projects later in his career: flexible interior spaces that can be reconfigured according to need, the possibility of future expansion and onsite assembly of factory-made parts for quick and accurate construction.

One of the handsomest sheds in Christendom

Without the interruption of services or supporting columns, a clear space runs across the length of this long building. Funded by Sir Robert and Lady Sainsbury, the centre was designed to house the art collection that they donated to the University of East Anglia. The interiors are zoned into bands for different public and private purposes: art gallery, research and teaching rooms, kitchen and restaurant. A spiral staircase drops down from the upper level and connects the ground floors of the arts centre to the high-level walkways of the campus's Brutalist-style 'Ziggurats' designed by Denys Lasdun in the 1960s.

 

The shell of the centre is a 2.4m-wide double-layered skin of changeable aluminium and glass panels, which hides all the services, including the toilets. Much of the structure is also hidden, but revealed as a lattice of steel towers and trusses at the glazed ends and parts of the ceiling. A basement corridor offers vehicular access and services the spaces above. 

‘…the resulting building would challenge almost every preconception about what a museum should be

The carefully hidden services have freed the roof from having to house ducts and pipes. Sunlight can enter the length of this building from above, controlled by adjustable louvres to suit the users’ needs. The effect is to animate the interior space with the daily and seasonal movements of the sun. This treatment of the roof is further developed in Foster's later projects such as Stansted and Hong Kong airports.

Flexibility was designed into this building and the concept was that the building could be expanded by adding additional length to the glazed ends. Foster was once again approached when the opportunity came to expand the centre, but a new solution was offered and in 2006 a new underground wing was opened, furthering the centre’s position as a focus of the University of East Anglia’s cultural activities. In 2012 its significance was recognised with a Grade II* listing.

Sainsbury Centre for the Visual Arts, University of East Anglia, Norwich: axonometric sketchSainsbury Centre for the Visual Arts, University of East Anglia, Norwich: sketched section illustrating the effect of light and heat reflecting panels on the roof and wallsSainsbury Centre for the Visual Arts, University of East Anglia, NorwichSainsbury Centre for the Visual Arts, University of East Anglia, Norwich

QUOTES ABOUT THE Sainsbury Centre for the Arts 


‘…the resulting building would challenge almost every preconception about what a museum should be.’
Norman Foster in Norman Foster, Works 1, edited by David Jenkins, 2002, p.366
‘One of the handsomest sheds in Christendom.’
Jonathan Glancey in Modern Architecture, 2013, p.387

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