Biography of a Building

The Biography of a Building

How Robert Sainsbury and Norman Foster Built a Great Museum

  1. Witold Rybczynski
  2. Introduction by Norman Foster
See Inside
  • ISBN 9780500342763
  • 22.90 x 15.20 cm
  • Hardback
  • 240pp
  • 50 Illustrations, 34 in colour
  • First published 2011
‘Wonderfully readable … Rybczynski is the most fair-minded of writers and absolutely immune to the seductions of current wisdom ’ – Wall Street Journal
‘Admirable and remarkably clear … highly readable, and a model of how to write a study of a single building’ – The Art Newspaper
‘Rybczynski’s book is immensely readable and achieves what he sets out to do, which is to outline in detail the course of a building’s life’- Burlington Magazine

The vast, dramatic, silvery-grey building, known as ‘the shed’, was opened in April 1978 to a fanfare of critical approval...

Witold Rybczynski, one of the world’s most fluent and avidly followed writers on architecture, is the perfect guide to the remarkable inside story of the Sainsbury Centre for the Visual Arts at the University of East Anglia, created for Sir Robert and Lady Sainsbury’s private collection of paintings, drawings and sculptures.

The project was Norman Foster’s first public commission and set him on the road to international fame and success. A new wing was complete in 1991 and a major refurbishment was carried out after the turn of the century.

This absorbing account draws in all the threads of the building’s history, starting with the genesis of the Sainsburys’ world-class art collection, and the parallel journeys of three other private collectors as they built museums to house their treasures. The selection of Foster as the architect, the identification of the site, the design of the building and its construction, and the installation of the collection are traced in fascinating detail, enlivened with generous quotations from the main players in the drama.

This is not only a history of the Sainsbury Centre: as the story unfolds, the author meditates on the nature of collecting and collections, the purpose and function of the art museum, the relationship between architect, client and sponsor, and the evolution and roots of late twentieth-century architecture.

The perceptive narrative, which includes a tribute to Sir Robert and Lady Sainsbury by Norman Foster, will enthral anyone interested in art, architecture and the role of the museum in cultural life.

Witold Rybczynski is Martin and Margy Meyerson Professor of Urbanism at the University of Pennsylvania. Born in Edinburgh, he studied architecture at McGill University in Montreal, where he also taught for twenty years. Of his many books, perhaps the most popular are Home, A Clearing in the Distance (winner of the J. Anthony Lukas Prize), and The Perfect House, about Andrea Palladio’s villas.

Also of interest
Norman Foster: A Global Architecture
Art and Artifact: The Museum as Medium
David Adjaye: Making Public Buildings
Big Shed
The Hermitage Museum XXI: A New Building for Art
Commissioning Contemporary Art - A Handbook for
    Curators, Collectors and Artists