The Sainsbury Centre for Visual Arts presents 'SUPERSTRUCTURES: The New Architecture 1960-90', marking the 40th anniversary of the opening of the gallery, the first ever public building designed by Norman Foster.
The exhibition tells the story of architecture's fascination with technology in the post-war decades, and the drive to develop new architectural forms utilising lightweight structures, industrialised building techniques and innovative engineering solutions. In doing so, architects and engineers evolved a new typology of building or 'superstructure', rethinking the places and spaces of culture, work, travel and living in ways that have been globally influential.
Often referred to as 'High-Tech', this label is regarded unfavourably by some as misleading in its suggestion of a singular 'style'. The exhibition evidences how this new modern architecture emerged from a generation of (largely British) architects who challenged convention. Immersed in the utopian and experimental ideas of late modernism, they shared a commonality of ideas, forms and materials. They were fascinated by the structural engineering innovations that followed the nineteenth-century, and were determined to apply the techniques of industrial production and assembly to buildings.
Norman Foster's Sainsbury Centre building epitomises the new architecture born of this technological spirit: a 'well-serviced shed' with a lightweight and extendable steel structure wrapped in a 'skin' of glass and plastic clip-on panels, adaptable (and adapted) as the building's functions changed or grew over time. It quickly became a paradigm of new museum building, but the ideas of structural ingenuity and expression, appropriate technology and industrial materials were applied to projects of all types and scales including factories, offices, transport hubs and homes.
The exhibition invites visitors to discover not only how the Sainsbury Centre was made, but also to understand how earlier feats of engineering such as The Crystal Palace inspired buildings of its kind. Audiences encounter striking examples of superstructures created for many different uses.
On display for the first time, a brand new three-metre-long model of the Sainsbury Centre is joined by a selection of iconic models on loan from international collections, rarely seen together. These include the Reliance Controls Factory by Team 4 (Norman Foster, Wendy Cheesman, Georgie Wolton and Richard Rogers); the Pompidou Centre by Rogers and Renzo Piano; Rogers' Lloyd's of London Building; Foster's Willis Faber Dumas Office; Waterloo International Rail Station by Nicholas Grimshaw; and the Hopkins House by Michael and Patty Hopkins.
The exhibition explores the seminal influence of figures such as Buckminster Fuller, Jean Prouvé, Charles and Ray Eames, and Cedric Price. Examples of 'technology transfer' show how techniques were adapted from the automotive, nautical, aerospace and information industries to create bold new materials and innovative industrial processes.
'SUPERSTRUCTURES: The New Architecture 1960-90' exhibition is taking place at the Sainsbury Centre for Visual Arts until 2 September 2018. The organisers are also holding a conference on 8-9 June 2018, details for which can be accessed via the following link.