University of East Anglia
Exhibition Design : Doug Pierson
The Sainsbury Centre is one of the most prominent university art galleries in Britain and a major national center for the study and presentation of art. It became necessary after Sir Robert and Lady Sainsbury gave their extensive art collection to the University of East Anglia in 1973. They commissioned then-young architect Norman Foster to design it to become what Sir Robert envisioned as the “great jewel” of the Sainsbury Collection.
Sir Robert and Lady Sainsbury told Foster that they believed studying art should be a pleasant, informal experience quite different from the traditional experience in which art and viewer are enclosed in a walled space – art in isolation. As a result, the Sainsbury Centre is a single, light-filled space where the art collections, educational facilities and several related activities converge easily.
Needless to say, this project needed to complement the Foster-design structure’s visual language.
Doug Pierson, an exhibition designer as well as architect early in his career, was tasked with developing kit-of-parts assemblies for a light-weight, translucent exhibition design that could be hung from the exposed 3D roof truss.
The building’s steel and glass detailing became the rich backdrop for a simple, suspended, wood and muslin cloth panel which, in turn, became the backdrop for the Centre’s traveling exhibits. The muslin is back-lit to provide a subtle warm glow that reflects on the artwork, suggesting an alternate, intimate interior enclosure within the impressively large, continuous volume of space that defines the building.