It was a Sunday and it was raining, as usual, so I did the sensible thing and went to a museum. I’d been to the Sainsbury Centre many times, sometimes with a sense of purpose, sometimes just to have another look at my favourite works of art. To those unfamiliar with the collection, I recommend checking out the Egyptian hippo, the Peruvian golden lady, or the llama effigy. Or, if you have little interest in ancient art, a flat white at the Kofra coffee shop is reason enough to pay a visit.
That Sunday, however, I was on a mission. Having been around for forty years, the museum was celebrating its own birthday with a special exhibition. Superstructures does not only show how the museum building was built but also explores the history of other familiar landmarks, such as the Centre Pompidou and the Lloyds Building.
I was not, as the Dutch say, inhibited by any knowledge of the matter at hand. My ability to discuss architecture in a meaningful way stops at aesthetic judgement, or pronouncing a building “nice” or “hideous”. It would have been useful to have had my brother with me, who is an actual architect and loves the Centre, although he has never visited.
What struck me most, being an uneducated savage, was how architects like Norman Foster are not only interested in beauty but also in functionality. In some cases architecture can, apparently, even be a way to change society for the better, at least in theory. The design of Stansted Airport, nothing but a stop on the way to Belfast for me, suddenly made sense. If I found it easy to navigate, that’s because Foster intended it to be.
While the exhibition offers much to look at and learn from, I did feel that I was under-equipped to understand it all. I loved looking at the models and artist impressions, admired the metal frame that supports the building I was visiting, but overall the exhibition felt more like an encouragement to educate myself further than a definite overview .
No problem at all: it’s a great reason to return, read some more, and look at buildings as more than aesthetic objects alone. For me, the Sainsbury Centre has always been a creative space away from the white noise of the everyday. And apparently it’s expecting some new tenants…
Image Pixabay via Pexels