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Cool Collection

15 June 2006

Achieving new standards of indoor comfort for visitors and for the preservation of an important art collection presented a challenge for the architect and air-conditioning specialists during the extension and refurbishment of the Sainsbury Centre in Norwich Carrier

THE SAINSBURY CENTRE FOR VISUAL ARTS at the University of East Anglia, Norman Foster’s iconic first public building, re-opened to the public last month following a major refurbishment and building project, designed by Foster and Partners for 21st century operation.

The original 1978 building was extended in 1991 and was always designed to allow for further extension and development. However, some building services technologies have themselves developed so far that it would have been impossible to have predicted the changes required to meet new regulations and contemporary visitor expectations, and that have now become possible.

Carrier Air Conditioning with its various comfort control technologies has risen to the challenge of fitting 21st century requirements within both a carefully designed new extension and the original building that still looks very much as it did when it first opened.

Personal collection
In 1974 Norman Foster was approached by Sir Robert and Lady Sainsbury to design an appropriate building to house both the world art collection which they had gifted to the University in 1973 and the School of Fine Art (now the School of World Art Studies and Museology). Located on a sloping east-west site close to a river at the edge of the campus, the enormous hangar-like 1978 building consists of the Living Area, which houses the permanent collection, a temporary exhibition space, the entrance Conservatory, with a gallery café, the School of World Art Studies and Museology, a large public restaurant, the Robert Sainsbury Library and two mezzanines, used respectively for study areas and for the display of the University of East Anglia Collection of Abstract and Constructivist Art, Architecture and Design.

The Sainsbury Collection is a very personal ‘living’ collection that is still being added to, but it is also a study collection with a University Department built around it. It has its specialisms such as objects from the cultures of the South Pacific and also contains famous works by Henry Moore, Francis Bacon and Giacometti.

The accommodation of all the different building functions under a single roof called for a highly innovative design approach and the resulting building remains revolutionary in the history of museum design.

It is essentially a prefabricated modular structure, with individual factory-made partsbeing assembled on site. This principle has continued to apply as Carrier discovered when it came to installing large new chillers to satisfy an increased cooling load, and replacing banks of air handling units within the walls of the original building. The impression, then and now, is of one vast open space, without the internal divisions normally found in museums. It is still remarkable for its transparency and for the interplay of natural and artificial light within it.

The latest extensions link the 1978 and 1991 buildings internally and provide new entrances, an access lift, additional gallery and circulation spaces, an education and studio area and a new shop and visitor reception.

Carrier Air Conditioning had a comprehensive involvement in satisfying the new air conditioning requirements for the refurbishment and remodelling. Six Carrier chillers of different sizes, from the small 33 kW Aquasnaps to the medium-sized 250 kW units, coupled with 45 of Carrier’s most advanced 39HQ modular air handling units have provided much of the solution to a change in requirements from the original ‘1970’s basic heating and cooling specification.

The original air conditioning requirements only envisaged providing for far less stringent conditions for the preservation of the collection and the comfort of visitors and students than are expected today. The time-expired air conditioning equipment also operated with refrigerants that now need replacing with more environmentally acceptable alternatives. All of the new equipment has had to fit in with the stringent new regulatory regime. The air handlers for example comply with BS/EN 1886. These and the chillers are Eurovent certified. Yet it all still had to fit into the spaces occupied by the previous generation of equipment.

Limited space
Two of Carrier’s 30 series air-cooled chillers, providing 244 kW of cooling each for the new gallery extension that joins the two earlier buildings, had to be fitted into the existing basement plant room. This could only be accessed from beautifully landscaped lawns below the building, and even then the equipment had to be craned in through a grille space in pieces and re-assembled within the room.

The patience of curators was needed by all. This was modularity taken to extremes. As these machines were, in effect, sited in a ‘concrete bunker’ the condenser fans also had to be ducted to the outside and acoustic modifications had to be made to take account of reverberation effects. Two further chillers had to be craned into position within the walls of the original building.

Additionally, two Aquasnap mini-chillers have been provided to supply chilled water for the new Carrier air handling units serving the School of World Art Studies and Museology and the public restaurant areas. These units had to be compact and slim as the only place for them is close to the wall in a loading bay used by large trucks. Clearance was vital. The Carrier units are only 478 mms deep.

Upstairs in the main gallery 40 of the Carrier air handling units have also had to be fitted inside the three metre skin outer walling, replacing the more basic original units – fortunately the latest 39HQ series was specifically designed to be modular. The units were craned into place after the louvers had been removed. Each was lifted in two sections and fixed together in situ. Eight of the units had to be specially painted in the off-white colour of the louver-covered walls as they are visible behind large glass panels that reveal the fabric of the building.

The 39HQs are high quality units with 60 mm thick thermal insulation and profiled steel frame construction. Thermal transmittance is Class T2. They use the same coil for heating and cooling and they have very low noise breakout, which was essential as they are sited next to occupied areas.

Air is delivered to the large main gallery space via giant air nozzles in the original Italian ‘seventies louver-blind system that covers the walls and ceiling and has been completely renewed. Enormous volumes of air need to be moved by the air handling plant as the space is vast. Five of the units serve new basement areas. The total building area is now well over 6,000 square metres.

Tony Johnson, Building and Support Services Manager, has been looking forward to the building being fully open again for a long time. “It’s going to be wonderful working in a 21st century facility, with the latest lighting schemes and technology, improved public toilets, our special daylight screening systems and of course air conditioning. We have become a bit bored with builders over two years!”

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