24 March – 2 September 2018

2018 marks the 40th anniversary of the opening of the Sainsbury Centre for Visual Arts, the first public building designed by the world-renowned architect Norman Foster.

In celebration, the Sainsbury Centre is launching a major exhibition to shine a light on developments in architecture from the 1960s to the 1990s.

SUPERSTRUCTURES tells the story of architecture’s fascination in the post-World War Two decades with new technology, lightweight structures, pioneering building techniques and innovative engineering solutions.

Discover how the Sainsbury Centre was made and how earlier feats of engineering, such as The Crystal Palace, inspired Superstructure galleries, factories, offices, transport hubs and homes.

Encounter a range of fascinating objects from drawings and paintings, furniture and product design to photographs and film.

Rarely seen together, a selection of iconic models will also be on display, including the Pompidou Centre by Richard Rogers and Renzo Piano; International Terminal Waterloo by Nicholas Grimshaw and the Hopkins House by Michael and Patty Hopkins, and a brand new three-metre-long model of the Sainsbury Centre.

£12, £10.50 concessions | Free for Members and Student Members

Photo: Sainsbury Centre, Ken Kirkwood, Foster + Partners


Designed between 1974 and 1976, the Sainsbury Centre for Visual Arts was the first major public building designed by now renowned architect Norman Foster.

The chosen location was a sloping east-west site by the River Yare, at the very edge of campus.

A revolution of modern design

With the need to house many functions under one roof, Foster’s solution was highly innovative. The building is a prefabricated modular structure formed around a steel framework, with individual aluminium or glass panels assembled on site.

Spaces between the external cladding and internal shutters house plant and service functions. An underground corridor runs along the building’s spine, to access to storage and workshop areas.

The original building

When the Sainsbury Centre first opened in 1978, it housed the Living Area, displaying the Robert and Lisa Sainsbury Collection and a temporary exhibition gallery at the east end.

Beyond the Living Area was space for the University’s Art History department, two mezzanines – one for a study area and the other to display collections – plus a restaurant at the west end.

Interior and exterior

The interior was fitted out with close attention to detail, including how objects were displayed within the space.

Inside feels like one vast open space, without divisions typically found in museums. The space is remarkable for its transparency and interplay of natural and artificial light.

Vistas from the great end windows were also a key part of the original aesthetic. So landscape architect Lanning Roper was commissioned, adding a lake and groupings of lime trees outside.

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