Great to see a building I love listed on Christmas Eve. The Sainsbury Centre for Visual Art stands at the very end of the concrete walkway that links together all the UEA campus buildings by Denys Lasdun. It’s a full stop after the ziggurats Designed between 1974 and 197, and first opened in 1978, it was Norman Foster’s first major public building. C20 Society is delighted that as of today it is listed Grade II* .
I first to the Sainsbury Centre when I was thinking about doing an Art History MA at UEA, after my architecture undergraduate degree. It was an exiting and impressive place to visit (you arrived by a small door in the side at first floor level). At that point however, the University was just embarking on a major expansion of the building (bringing back Lord Foster, despite some controversy over the need to replace all the original external cladding which had failed early on), and much of the wonderful spacious interior would have been closed off to students and visitors alike–so the plans for the building were a major part of why I decided to go and study in the USA.)
The university describes the building as “essentially a prefabricated modular structure, with individual factory-made parts being assembled on site. The impression is of one vast open space, without the internal divisions normally found in museums, and it is remarkable for its transparency and for the interplay of natural and artificial light. Spaces between the external cladding and the internal shutters accommodate plant and service functions and an underground corridor running along the spine of the building gives access to storage and workshop areas. It was Foster’s intention that the building be constructed in such a way as to allow for subsequent extension if necessary.” However, when it came to it, rather than just adding extra bays of matching structure, Foster opted instead for a partially subterranean Cresent Wing, between the original structure and the lake. This opened in 1991–the picture on the left shows this, the RHS is the building in its pure form before the extension–I think it works much better than photos suggest).
It’s well worth a visit, but don’t rush off straight away as your really need to see inside the building to get the point of it, and it’s closed for the Christmas break until Wednesday 2 January. If you wait until February, they have a show opening which argues that Art Nouveau was the first modern design movement, and one that “progressed” from natural to more abstract, geometric forms. It will have works by René Lalique, Emile Gallé , Louis Majorelle,Charles Rennie Mackintosh and Josef Hoffmann. It’s being curated by a team led by Professor Paul Greenhalgh, and you can check details here.