New plans announced for Sainsbury Centre

Situated on the University of East Anglia campus – one of many of Norfolk's creativity pockets – the Sainsbury Centre for Visual Arts encompasses all forms of art from sculptures to paintings to photography and has a major international reputation.

With a backdrop of lush greenery and landscapes including Butterfly Meadow, the iconic building was designed by architect Norman Foster.

The project was his first public commission and he regards it as one of his finest pieces of work. It was created for Sir Robert and Lady Lisa Sainsbury, who were looking for a university to which they could donate their private collection of paintings, drawings and sculptures. They gave the collection to UEA in 1973.

The Sainsbury Centre for Visual Arts took two years to design and build. It was opened on April 7, 1978, and was known as The Shed.

It has since been transformed with extensions added. When it underwent the first expansion in 1986, the Sainsburys did not want to alter the appearance of the original and Foster created an underground solution.

The Crescent Wing was opened in May 1991. Also designed by Norman Foster, it takes up two-thirds of the footprint of the main building. It was added to provide another gallery and teaching spaces.

The Sainsbury Institute for the study of Japanese Arts and Cultures was founded in 1999 to promote knowledge and understanding of Japanese arts and cultures. It was funded by a multi-million pound donation from the Sainsburys.

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Another extension in May 2006 saw an additional gallery, shop, education and studio area created.

Now new plans have been announced for its expansion, funded by a major donation by the Gatsby Charitable Foundation. It is not yet known how much the whole project will cost. The foundation continues the unique Sainsbury connection – having been established in 1967 by Lord Sainsbury of Turville, Robert and Lisa's eldest son.

The four-year project started in September and the first phase is scheduled to be completed next February 4.

Chief operating officer Tony Johnson said: 'We are trying to stick with the original plan of bringing the landscape indoors. Norman Foster's intention was that the building sits in the landscape.

'The exhibition space will be changed and we will provide somewhere for people to go in the evenings. It will enhance the visitor attractions in Norwich and Norfolk.'

The world-class centre currently welcomes 50,000 people through its doors every year – underlining its national and international status and place in the arts world 'big league'.

Mr Johnson said the centre would remain open while the work was carried out and disruption would be kept to a minimum.

Director Paul Greenhalgh, said: 'The Sainsbury Centre has always been known as one of the country's great centres for scholarship in the visual arts, anthropology and archaeology and the use of our collections and libraries by researchers from all over the world is one of our main roles.

'But we have some of the greatest works of art imaginable in our building, as well as an extraordinary environment, inside Foster's masterpiece. We want to share all of this more with the public at large. What better way to do that than to create new vibrant galleries, with a superb restaurant facility? It brings together so many of life's real pleasures.'

Sam Morton, spokesman for the Sainsbury Centre, said: 'Norwich has a fantastic cultural scene and it is a wonderful environment for the collections and exhibitions to be in. We want to welcome more people to the centre.'

The new design will allow more space for social activity and exhibitions. The Sculpture Garden, an area of lawn directly overlooked by the Modern Life Caf�, will continue to present a changing programme of contemporary sculpture and there are plans for a spectacular exhibition for 2013 which will celebrate art in East Anglia. The project will involve input from people in Norfolk and will coincide with the UEA's 50th anniversary.

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