A Contemporary Temple: Sainsbury Centre, Art under a Roof


To many, the Sainsbury Centre for the Visual Arts is the ultimate well-serviced box, and the climax of all the experiments undertaken by Foster in the previous ten years, from Reliance and Olsen to IBM and SAPA; to others, this monumental framed container is a classical temple, heroically mechanical in the huge span of the structurally expressive portal, and a first bold and confident step in a more assertive direction. Built in Norwich in 1974-1978, on the campus of one of the new green field universities of the sixties – that of East Anglia, designed by Denys Lasdun in a characteristic 45º zigzagging pattern – the centre houses both an art school and the art collection donated by the Sainsburys, and indeed fuses oxymoronically two rather opposite intentions: the desacralization of art, whose objects are deliberately placed in the informal context of everyday life; and the celebration of the otherworldly nature of art, whose precious expressions are enshrined in an exquisite coffer. Hangar and temple, this extruded double-skinned container, top-lit with automatically operated louvers and clad with aluminium panels, redefined both the role and the image of the museum as radically as the Pompidou Centre, built simultaneously in Paris by Renzo Piano and Richard Rogers...[+]

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