Sainsbury Centre, attached walkway, underground loading bay, and retaining walls to loading bay access road at the University of East Anglia


Heritage Category:
Listed Building
List Entry Number:
Date first listed:
Location Description:
Sainsbury Centre at the University of East Anglia in Norwich. It is located to the south-west side of the campus overlooking the Broad.
Statutory Address:
University Of East Anglia, Earlham Road, Norwich, Norwich, NR4 7TJ


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Statutory Address:
University Of East Anglia, Earlham Road, Norwich, Norwich, NR4 7TJ

The building or site itself may lie within the boundary of more than one authority.

Location Description:
Sainsbury Centre at the University of East Anglia in Norwich. It is located to the south-west side of the campus overlooking the Broad.
Norwich (District Authority)
Non Civil Parish
National Grid Reference:


The Sainsbury Centre gallery and study centre, erected in 1977.

Reasons for Designation

The Sainsbury Centre, erected in 1977 for Lord and Lady Sainsbury at the University of East Anglia, and designed by Foster Associates is listed at Grade ll* for the following principal reasons:

* Architectural innovation: a late-C20 building by one of Britain's most significant modern architects. It exemplifies the architect's signature use of technological and engineering innovation and the industrialized, prefabricated, style.

* Celebrated design: one of the best known and admired modern exhibition and education buildings nationally, and internationally.

* Historic Association: a purpose-built museum gallery and education centre for the internationally renowned Sainsbury Collection

* Flexibility of design: the in-built flexibility of its open spaces responds to the changing needs of its use as a museum gallery and education centre. The design has allowed regular, sympathetic changes to work satisfactorily, and the essential elements of the building survive intact. New additions and alterations, while too new to be of special interest, have been thoughtfully incorporated.

* Group Value: the Sainsbury Centre forms part of a group of listed university buildings, including Norfolk and Suffolk Terrace (Denys Lasdun 1964-8, listed Grade ll*), and continues the concepts of site expansion and integrated use, along the zig zag spine of the campus, in a natural landscape, established by the original masterplan. The Sainsbury Centre is connected to the Teaching Wall (Denys Lasdun 1964-8, listed Grade ll) by an overhead walkway.


The Sainsbury Centre was constructed through 1977 and opened in 1978. It stands on the edge of the University of East Anglia (UEA) campus, first developed to the master plan and designs of Denys Lasdun in the 1960s, and to the west of the Grade II* listed Norfolk and Suffolk Terrace, the listed Teaching Wall and the library. The centre was constructed in order to house the art collection of Lord and Lady Sainsbury, the founders of the Sainsbury supermarket chain and noted collectors and supporters of the arts. After a successful exhibition in the Netherlands, they approached the UEA Vice Chancellor, Frank Thistlethwaite, who had established the university's School of Fine Arts and Music, and donated their collection in 1973. It quickly outgrew its accommodation and it was clear that a purpose-built home was required. In 1974 Norman Foster met Lord and Lady Sainsbury to discuss the commission and the building work began in 1977. Foster's brief was very specific, based on the Sainsburys' experience of art galleries around the world.

A number of changes have been made since the original construction, all designed by Foster Associates. Notably, the original ribbed, silver, super-plastic aluminium, external panelling began to leak and was replaced with the present panels in 1988 and, in 1991, a semi-sunken extension for stores and offices, known as the Crescent Wing, was added at the south-east end. In 2004, as part of a general refurbishment, slim-line canopies were added over the main entrances, a stair was added to give access from the ground-floor to a naturally-lit, basement shop, and an underground gallery was created between the main building and the Crescent Wing. At the present time, the Crescent Wing is too young to be assessed for listing.


The Sainsbury Centre was erected in 1977 for Lord and Lady Sainsbury at the University of East Anglia to the design of Foster Associates, with Anthony Hunt Associates as consulting engineers.

MATERIALS The structural frame is composed of trussed, tubular steel, prismatic latticework, columns and single-span beams, which in series form 36 bays. The frame is clad with sheet aluminium panels, and is glazed in part.

EXTERIOR The layout and structure of the building are said to adhere to proportions of 16:4:1, and form a rectangle in both plan and section, comprising a single-storey structure over a basement. The columns form the thickness of the wall, faced on the exterior with small rectangular panels: mainly sheet-aluminium, but glass for the full height at the two entrance bays on the south west side, and partially glazed at the curved junction of wall and roof. The glass-panelled areas are pierced by a rectangular arrangement of circular ventilation fans which form a design feature. The exterior aluminium panelling is a 1988 replacement, advised by the architects. The insulated thickness of the walls contains plant and services, and some storage, while the end walls are impressively glazed with a series of pioneering, 7.3m high glass panels, with internal glass fins, sealed with mastic. The glazed, south-east end offers a view from the rise of land on which the centre sits, down towards the lake, known as the Broad. At each end, the building extends one bay beyond the glazing, forming a brise soleil. The centre is connected to the Teaching Wall (Listed Grade ll) by a raised, ribbon walk-way, with glazed sides, which gives access to the north-east side of the Sainsbury Centre at a raised level above the reception area. It delivers visitors to a short internal bridge linking to a metal spiral stair, and thus down to the main floor.

INTERIOR On the inside, the natural light from above, filtered through four strips of roof-top glazing, is controlled by bands of adjustable louvres at the ceiling. Light from the walls is controlled by perforated louvres at the sides, and blinds (a later addition) at the ends. As on the exterior, circular ventilation fans are used internally for design effect, arranged on the walls in a linear group of four in each bay. The architects intended the exhibition areas to be flexible, reusable spaces; so the single-span beams and wall-housed services are designed to leave the ground floor as open as possible. It is divided into six distinct areas. The south-eastern end forms an exhibition gallery, divided from the central gallery by the reception bay (formed of an entrance lobby on the north-east side, and a café on the south-west). At the centre is a circular reception desk. The glazed entrance on the north-east side contains two, circular-lobby doorways. The reception bay was rearranged in 2004, and a light well and an opening for a circular stair has been cut through the floor to create a top-lit shop in the basement beneath. Access to the main exhibition gallery, dubbed the 'living area', is via a recently located, central opening in a waist-high partition alongside the reception area. It contains axial and angular, freestanding panels, designed by the architect as surfaces for mounting artwork. North-west of the exhibition floor, there are two mezzanines divided by a partially sunken study area which is now used for information technology. On the north-east side is a glazed entranceway. The two mezzanines form exhibition floors over glazed offices and tutorial rooms beneath, and are supported on circular columns sheathed with sheet aluminium, which generally forms the surface finish. The mezzanine levels are reached via metal circular stairs with tubular handrails and glazed panels below (added in 2006), which also give access down to the basement. Access to a restaurant at the north-west end is along the north-east side of the adjacent mezzanine.

Vehicular access to the basement is via a concrete ramp at the north-west end. The sunken loading bay, grassed on the surface, is screened from the main basement area by folding doors with circular lights. The basement, for workshops in the main, is relatively narrow and runs just off-centre down the length of the building. It has a main goods lift and a corridor on the south-west side, which acts also as a cable conduit. From the basement a curved corridor forms a direct entrance into the Crescent Wing which is built into the ground at the south-east end. The Crescent Wing is too young (1991) to be included in this listing and is therefore not described here, beyond its attachment to the original building. However, this wing should be considered for inclusion once it comes of age.


Books and journals
Rybczynski, W, The Biography of Building, (2011)
'Architects Journal' in Foster's Centre Sheds its Skin, (7 October 1987)
'RIBA Journal' in The sainsbury Centre for Visual Arts, Norwich; Architects: Foster Associates, , Vol. 85, (8 Aug 1978), 318
Buxton, P, 'Building Design' in Inspiration: Sainsbury Centre, Norwich; Architects (1974-78): Foster Associates., , Vol. 1995, (6 Jan 2012), 14-17
Spring, M, 'Building' in Foster Adds More Finishing Touches To Sainsbury Centre, , Vol. 271, (26 May 2006), 18
Wilcock, R, 'RIBA Journal' in Frontis: Crescent Wing, Sainsbury Centre for Visual Arts, University of East Anglia, Norwich; Architects: Foster Associates., , Vol. 98, (July 1991), 6-7,10,12
Williams, S, 'Building Design' in Informal Touch, , Vol. 381, (3 Feb 1978), 14-15


This building is listed under the Planning (Listed Buildings and Conservation Areas) Act 1990 as amended for its special architectural or historic interest.

End of official listing

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