The Sainsbury Centre for Visual Arts was funded by Sir Robert and Lady Lisa Sainsbury to house their donated collection of ethnographic and twentieth-century art. The Centre is located at the University of East Anglia (UEA) as they wanted it to have an academic and social focus. As well as housing the Sainsburys’ permanent collection there is also a temporary exhibition space, entrance conservatory, café, restaurant, School of World Art Studies and Museology and a library. The Crescent Wing addition was created in 1988 to provide space for the reserve collection, conversation facilities, offices and a gallery for exhibitions and conferences and was then connected to the main building in 2006 providing additional display space, studio spaces, improved shop facilities, a café and other visitor facilities such as the new education centre.
Norman Foster was commissioned to the design the building, which is a linear open-plan space created by using a prefabricated steel frame which provides a 35m span of open space by 135m in length. The services are housed in a double layer wall, in the ceiling and in the basement corridor – separating served and servant spaces. The large open space provides the client with complete freedom strengthening the versatility of the space with the use of movable study rooms, partition screens, display cases, and stands. In addition, the centre was constructed from a kit of parts solution utilizing five types of aluminium cladding: flat glazed, solid or grilled, and rounded solid or glazed.