The Honest Detail

Details in Contemporary Design

Under Senior Instructor Ken Renaud

Norman Foster’s Sainsbury Centre for Visual Arts   Norwich, Norfolk, UK / 1974 - 1978

 Norman Foster’s Sainsbury Centre for Visual Arts contains a complex system of environmental control through an honest route of expression. Foster utilizes the figurative value of exterior, visible structure and uninterrupted programme to achieve the flexibility and translucence needed in such a venue.


 In order for Foster to achieve his architectonic conception of uninterrupted space, lightness, and transparency; Foster implemented a system of welded steel members and panels. This system came together to form 37 portal frames which allowed for an unimpeded space of 435 feet. Rather than covering up this unique network of rectangular grids and portal frame elements, Foster left much of the network visible.


 This system plays a major role in the Centre’s program in itself.  Foster integrated the galleries lighting system to into the infrastructure, allowing for limitless options when lighting the works on display.


 The system of portal frames connects to a cladding system which drapes the Centre’s longer facades. This cladding system is designed with different qualities, whether opaque/transparent glass or metal grilles, to keep energy consumption to a minimum. This connection between framework and cladding is illustrated in the detail shown.