One of Lord Norman Foster’s first public buildings in the United Kingdom, the Sainsbury Centre at the University of East Anglia, has received a protected status from Heritage Minister Ed Vaizey. The move was welcomed by conservation organisation English Heritage whose Designation Director, Roger Bowdler said: “We are pleased that the Sainsbury Centre at the University of East Anglia has been listed at Grade II* following our recommendation. Listing will not interfere with the centre’s continued flexible use, and the University of East Anglia has set an example over a number of years of how the listed modern buildings in its care can be sympathetically managed.” The status marks the building as ‘particularly important’ and ‘of more than special interest’.
The story of the Sainsbury Centre began some four decades ago in the early 1970s when Lord and Lady Sainsbury donated their expansive collection of art to the University of East Anglia. Lord Foster was brought on to develop plans for a fitting art gallery which could also include the School of World Art Studies and Museology, enabling students to interact with the exquisite art collection on offer without being distracted by over-zealous museum explanations. Thus in 1978, the university opened its new building on the outer edges of its campus and several years later integrated the Crescent Wing after the growing collection and expanding student/staff numbers demanded additional space.
Unlike many of the UK’s art collections, the works at the Sainsbury Centre are continuously open to the public with a new gallery opened just six years ago as a gift from Lord Sainsbury to his mother for her 90th birthday. Speaking to ArtLyst on the news of Vaizey’s decision, Lord Foster said: “My first meeting with Sir Robert and Lady Sainsbury was around this time of year almost forty years ago. On the morning of New Year’s Day, 1974 I arrived for what I was told would be a brief meeting about a possible museum project - little did I know the extent to which that meeting would influence my future as an architect and also my personal life.
“A building is only as good as its client and the architecture of the Sainsbury Centre is inseparable from the enlightenment and the driving force of the Sainsburys themselves and the support of the University of East Anglia. I am delighted that the significance of the museum that we created together has been recognised by this listing.”