Concrete investigates the heritage of UEA’s campus

Sainsbury Centre

The Sainsbury Centre for Visual Arts (known as the SCVA to UEA’s Art History and World Art Studies students) arrived on the UEA campus in 1978.

Designed by the renowned architect, Norman Foster, you may well recognise some of the architectural features in this early example of his work from his various later international designs, such as ‘The Gherkin’ in London.

Sir Robert and Lady Lisa Sainsbury donated their vast collection of over 300 works of art and objects to the University in 1973.

Their lifetime collection of pieces had previously been stored in their London home – hence the name of the gallery space, ‘The Living Area’, recreating the domestic and homely feel in which they had come to view these works.As collectors, the Sainsburys were keen patrons and on good terms with many of the artists whose works are on display, such as Henry Moore (several of whose sculptures are outside the SCVA) and Giacometti. They also collected various artefacts from around the world, spanning 5000 years.

The UEA is extremely lucky to have this resource at its fingertips, so be sure to visit. For those not inspired by this magnificent collection, you may be interested to know that the building was also featured in Avengers: Age of Ultron and Ant-Man.

The Sainsbury Centre also houses a light and airy café, quite different from those more central to campus – worth a visit when you’re looking for somewhere a little more peaceful. – Lydia Lockyer

The Ziggurats

The Ziggurats have won multiple architectural awards, most recently coming on the Guardian’s top-10 student accommodations from around the world. Denys Lasdon combined cubic towers, jutting foyers, and bare concrete to create strikingly memorable structures. The Ziggurats are an extensive example of his work, which built upon smaller earlier buildings such as the St John’s college Cambridge.

Notably, it was with this building that he developed the idea of Ziggurat-like structures built in four pyramids, and connected via covered walkways. It was Lasdun’s portfolio of innovative modernist architecture which importantly would meld with the outlook of UEA’s Vice-Chancellor,

Frank Thistlewaithe. Over the early half of 1962 the two men developed their design, “It quickly became clear that there was a true meeting of minds about the way the academic designs should be resolved in architectural terms.”

The Ziggurats consists of a series of walkways and glazed residential flats, stacked on top of each other in a shape resembling the structure’s namesake of a Babylonian origin. Such structures sit within the framework of another of Lasdun’s architectural influences in the work of American Architect Frank Llyod Wright. Wright, sought the harmonisation of the human and natural worlds.

This is seen in the location of the Ziggurats, built next to the UEA Broad, and overlooking Norfolk’s flat landscapes, and huge skies. Lasdun even proposed bringing the lake closer to the Ziggurats themselves, to fit the building in more comfortably. Lasdun, in the process of planning the structure, would study it intensely on foot, as well as in a helicopter, and greatly desired its connection with the landscape. Lasdun observed after completion, that “From the ground, they hug the landscape which is itself preserved by the plan’s compactness.”  – Rob Klim

Earlham Hall

UEA’s Earlham Hall is a Grade II listed building, a building of more than special interest: only 5.5% of all listed buildings are Grade II. Earlham Hall currently houses the UEA Law School which moved from the Blackdale Building in 2014, following refurbishment and restoration. When the University first opened in 1963, Earlham Hall, located behind the Enterprise Centre became its administrative office.

Earlham Hall was built in 1642 the year the English Civil War began, by Robert Houghton. The Bacon family, however, owned Earlham Hall by the eighteenth century, including Edward Bacon MP. After 1786, Edward Bacon died, and ownership of the property fell to another Frank Bacon, who  rented the house to the Gurney family, who lived there for over a century.

John Gurney and Catherine Bell had 13 children in the household, including Elizabeth Fry, the prison reformer and Christian philanthropist. The School of Social Work and Psychology on UEA grounds is named after her. As well as Elizabeth, bankers Samuel and Daniel Gurney, and Louisa Hoare, who wrote about education in the early 1800s called Earlham Hall home. In 1942, during the Blitz, Earlham Hall provided maternity beds when bombs destroyed Norwich’s maternity home. Before this, it also provided nurses accommodation. The house has a ghostly history: Elizabeth Fry’s sister reportedly roams the hall, as well as the ghost of a maid who killed herself.

In the 1950s, Bluebell Girls School’s annex was located here and in October 1963 when UEA first opened its doors, Earlham Hall was home to the Vice-Chancellor. The Gurneys were one of the most well-known families who lived at Earlham Hall. They started a bank of the same name, which merged with Barclays in 1896.

Radio 1s Big Weekend was located at Earlham Park in 2015. Acts included Taylor Swift, Fall Out Boy and the Foo Fighters. Taylor Swift even used part of Earlham Hall as her dressing room. -Hannah Brown

Elizabeth Fry Building

Elizabeth Fry, née Gurney, is probably most commonly known as the woman that used to be on £5 notes.

In 2002, she was chosen to become the second woman to appear on a Bank of England note. She was in fact a very famous philanthropist, even supported by the monarch at the time.

She was born into a prominent Quaker family in Norwich – hence UEA naming a building after her – in 1780. When she was 18, she heard the preaching of famous American Quaker William Savery, and two female Quakers Priscilla Hannah Gurney and Deborah Darby and was so moved by their religious conviction that it changed the course of her life.

She began collecting clothes for the poor, visiting the sick and prisoners, and started a Sunday school in Earlham to teach children to read. She was also an advocate of vaccination, and has been seen as responsible for the elimination of smallpox in children in neighbouring villages.

Fry is most famous for her penal reform of Newgate prison. She was inspired by her religion to see the prisoners as fellow human beings, and she wanted to change the harsh conditions into places where criminals could be rehabilitated.

To “amend the Character and change the Heart”, Fry emphasised kindness. As well as this, she advised that female prisoners should be “under the care of women”, and have their own prisons separate from men. In 1818, she started travelling across England, Scotland and Ireland combining prison reform with Quaker preaching.

Some of her ideas made it to legislation, and she was respected within penal reform as far afield as Canada and Australia. She almost had to give up in 1828 after her husband went bankrupt, but her brother stepped in to become her business manager and financial backer as he recognised how important her work was.

Her dedication to improving the lives of other didn’t end there; she was a strong advocate for the abolition of slavery, and opened a training school in 1840. It is rumoured that she influenced Florence Nightingale through this.

Unfortunately, her (male) successors often brushed her off as unprofessional and religious zeal was seen as old-fashioned.

She mainly targeted women’s issues, leading her to be rather unrepresented in mainstream accounts of prison and reform history.

The building she has given her name to is now over twenty years old, but still exceeds building regulations for thermal performance, and was declared the “best building ever” by Building Services Journal in 1998 – not too shabby a legacy for such a dedicated person. – Emily Young 

Julian Study Centre

Julian of Norwich has come to be respected as a very important figure in female writing, and incredibly influential theologian, but actually very little is known about her. Julian is almost definitely not her name – it was given to her due to the fact that she was an anchoress at the Church of St. Julian.

Her anchorage is what makes her so fascinating: she voluntarily agreed to be bricked into a tiny room attached to a church for the rest of her life, where she depended entirely on support of locals to keep her alive. Outside of her anchorage, very little is known: academics have speculated that she was a nun, or widow, because of what her writing suggests but there is no clear evidence. Her birth has been dated to 1342, because she says she is thirty and a half upon beginning her first text, but her date of is a bit more contested as there are various unclear references to her, but is accepted to be circa 1416.

In her anchorage, she wrote Revelations of Divine Love after having visions of Jesus on his crucifix as she lay very ill and potentially dying, now known as the Short Text, and is believed to be the oldest surviving book written by an English woman. Around thirty years later wrote the Long Text, which were her musings on the necessity of sin. At the time, these were quite controversial and possibly heretic, but not attacked by the Church – probably because she wasn’t seen as a threat – but are now considered to be quite notable, securing her place as an important theologian. Her cell has been rebuilt, and since 2013, there has been a week-long festival devoted to her in Norwich, presenting her as an international figure of cultural importance.

UEA decided in 2013 that Julian’s historical relevance was worth celebrating by naming one of its academic buildings after her. The Julian Study Centre itself is part of UEA’s sustainable campus, in which the university is investing in building that use sustainable materials during the build, and ensure that they are low-energy to maintain post construction. It was the first UEA building using Cross-Laminated Timber, which allows for quick construction and a low carbon footprint. It has an air tightness that exceeds building regulations and its LED lighting received the highest-rating Energy Performance Certificate, making it a great eco-friendly addition to our campus. – Emily Young


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Lydia Lockyer