The RAF Museum in London is set to be transformed into a world-class visitor facility as part of the Royal Air Force’s 2018 Centenary Programme. Designed by Nex–Architecture with Agence Ter Landscape Architects, the project will revitalise the museum’s historic site, which sits on the edge of the former Hendon Aerodrome in Colindale, North London. The scheme was granted planning permission in October 2016 and is supported by funding from the Heritage Lottery Fund. The first phase of the Centenary Programme, the First World War in the Air exhibition, opened in December 2014.
The redesign will not only upgrade visitor facilities, but also promote the airfield heritage of the museum’s location. As one of the first airfields in the UK, it was instrumental in the Battle of Britain during the Second World War, and has housed the RAF museum since 1972. Alan Dempsey, founding director of Nex-, stated: “The new buildings and masterplan will bring a much-needed coherence to the site, and will offer new spaces that enhance visitor experience and better communicate the story of RAF people and technology for its centenary year and beyond.”
The new landscape strategy, designed by Agence Ter, will create a greener setting for the museum buildings, with circulation and views inspired by runways. A circular ‘taxiway’ at the heart of the site allows access to all exhibitions. Views into and out of the site are framed and site boundaries are defined by landscaped edges in the form of grass banks, planted ditches or dense plantations of trees and shrubs.
On entering the building, visitors can expect a clear route designed by Nex-, establishing a coherent experience through the exhibitions. The Museum’s Centenary Programme provides a prominent new entrance and visitor centre within the reconfigured Hangar 1 building, acting as a welcome and orientation point. This new foyer is signalled by a dramatic 40m long entrance with a deep cantilevered roof canopy for sheltering large crowds. An adjacent water tank, re-clad in a new skin of distinctive and anodised aluminium fins, sits alongside.
Inside, the hangar will be reconfigured to incorporate a new central hub providing a café, shop, members’ room, public viewing galleries and flexible use spaces. Clad in extruded aluminium fins and inspired by the overlapping blades of a jet turbine engine, this new element plays with visitors’ perceptions of transparency and solidity as they move around the building.
From this entrance, visitors can proceed up to the new viewing galleries overlooking the aircrafts, pass into the newly-created RAF First 100 Years and RAF Lab exhibitions, or into Sunderland Hall, which houses the Sunderland bomber. Throughout the 5200 sq m building, the interior is finished in dark complementary tones, intended to create a muted backdrop for the aircraft. Construction will be carried out around the Sunderland bomber, which is too fragile to be moved. A new industrial door will be installed to enable access for other larger aircrafts.
After exploring Hangar 1, visitors pass through further hangars and exhibits as well as a new 170-seater restaurant, which Nex– will create by converting one of the few original airfield buildings, a semi-derelict former officers’ mess dating from the 1930s. The original brick walls and steel roof trusses will be complemented at the lower level with new ash panelling, display cabinets and stained oak flooring. This contrasts with a lighter treatment above, crafted from white walls, delicate metal display cases and extensive glazed roof lights. Other notable features include parachute-style lights suspended from the ceiling.
Work starts on site in January 2017 and is due to complete the following Spring to coincide with the RAF’s Centenary year, 2018. Dempsey said: “We have greatly enjoyed working alongside the team at the RAF Museum to secure funding for this ambitious development programme."
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