‘Superstructures: The New Architecture 1960-90’ promises to “shine a light” on the architectural developments seen at the cusp of the twentieth century, and link these designs to their Victorian predecessors.

Utilitarianism is at the crux of the works on display; blueprints and paintings of factories and offices feature heavily. Other mediums, such as models and partial reconstructions, show the ‘High-Tech’ movement’s incorporation of lessons from the automobile and aeronautical industries.

1970s’ architects’ penchant for steel, concrete, and skeletal imaginings, combined with the ideas of Victorian engineers, such as Isambard Kingdom Brunel and Joseph Paxton provide the exhibition with concept that spans centuries and continents.

“The exhibition evidences how this new modern architecture emerged from a generation of (largely British) architects who challenged convention,” a spokesperson said of the exhibition. “Immersed in the utopian and experimental ideas of late modernism, they shared a commonality of ideas, forms, and materials.”

The Sainsbury Centre is keen to impress on the visitor that the story of “high tech” is not one confined to the British Isles. In addition to highlighting the work of the Sainsbury Centre architect Norman Foster, work by the US designer Buckminster Fuller is also on display. A personal highlight of the exhibition is the sketch of the Depression-era architect’s Dymaxion car, which pledges to help society “do the most with the least”. (To this end, ‘Dymaxion’ is Buckminster Fuller’sportmanteau of the words dynamic, maximum, and tension.) The car was intended as a prototype of a versatile vehicle that could one day fly.

The exhibition features many patents and blueprints; mid-way through the exhibition you are left wondering why it is so many of the works were never executed. For a collection of works so concerned with utility and adaptability, a strong vein of innovation and idealism runs throughout.

Skeletal structures run riot in this exhibition. The focus, of course, is on Norman Foster’s ‘shed’ design of exposed steel rods, which is covered in panels of plastic and glass.

Opened in 1978, the museum is celebrating its 40th anniversary this month and the decision to focus on the museum itself to mark this is a clever one. The Sainsburys viewed the building’s design as one of their collection’s most prized assets, and it is a testament to the gallery’s strong history that this is continued in anniversary celebrations.

The Parisian Centre Georges Pompidou complex, which holds a public library, museums, and research centres, was a late 1970s design that incorporated bursts of bright colours with exposed steel. Described in one French newspaper as the city’s monster, “just like the one in Loch Ness,” contemporaries spoke of the building as a structure that wove itself into Paris, thus breaking down barriers to accessing the city’s history and cultural opportunities.

‘Superstructures’ is an invitation to consider our surroundings and their contexts. A model of Stansted airport, complete with tiny lilac and pink cars waiting outside terminals, gives visitors cause to question the buildings around them. The exhibition also sees the debut of a model of the Sainsbury Centre, three-metres in length, which depicts the starkness of the museum’s ingenuity.


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