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National Football Museum by OMI Architects

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The National Football Museum by OMI Architects, built into two stands at Preston North End’s Deepdale ground, takes visitors on a journey that is a celebration of the beautiful game

Shoe-horned into the voids below two new stands at Preston North End’s Deepdale football ground is something to worry the vanguard of the middle classes busy colonising the terraces of England’s great game - the National Football Museum.

Isn’t a museum a sign of death? Close the pit today and reopen it tomorrow as a mining heritage centre?

In this case, those fears are unfounded.

What we have here is more a celebration of everything football: the art, the icons, the cultural impact, the commercial success, the laughs, the agony and the ecstasy.More ‘here we go’ than ‘there we were’.

So this museum - at least it is better than ‘heritage centre’ - has to be equally vibrant and exciting, which posed a problem when the National Lottery grandees backed a plan to house the world’s most significant collection of football history, memorabilia, interactive games and research projects at Deepdale.

The Preston fans pushed hard for the honour - they had contacts and enthusiasm, good motorway connections and a catchment area of millions. But the available space amounted to parts of the two undercrofts created, or rather left over, when the new stands were built, plus the area flanked by that development.

Located in ‘a difficult site’, the project urgently called for a bold public face which would be welcoming, inspiring, impressive and useful - linking the two undercrofts and setting visitors on their journey of exploration through the museum.

In 1997, OMI Architects of Manchester entered the competition to design an entrance building which measured up to the task. The practice won, to the surprise of director Phil O’Dwyer. Such prestigious contracts tend to go to a few well-known firms - rather too few, he says without rancour.

Of course, OMI is on its way up; founded in 1993 by O’Dwyer, David McCall and (the now departed) Paul Iddon, it has several RIBA awards to its name.

The practice had three unwelcome years in which to play with ideas for the building while legal problems were fought over. Its work on the £12 million project - £7.56 million came from the Heritage Lottery Fund - started on site in February 2000. Only a year later the museum opened to the public, but with little flourish. The official opening is in June.

OMI’s design draws on and plays with the story of football. It has been built in materials inspired by the utilitarian stadia of the past 100 years: blockwork, but with a polished finish; poured concrete, with the bolt holes left by the shuttering process forming a strong, geometric pattern both inside and out; crinkly tin, just like the walls of the PNE stadium, visible through the entrance building’s many meters of glass; dark-painted I-beams; tubular structural bracing; and iron stairs and walkways.

Using dry processes made it possible for the building to be open to the public a mere week and a half after it was handed over to the client.

OMI did not opt for one ‘big idea’ - unless variety, complexity, contrast and movement are a big idea. ‘Instead of designing spaces we designed journeys, ’ says O’Dwyer, who is quick to point out that this was a team effort.

So the visitors to the museum move through a changing landscape from the moment they arrive - when they are almost bowed down by the weight of the low entrance doorway, only to be lifted immediately by the high, light and airy foyer. They are then drawn from that wide open space into what becomes something of a tunnel en route to the busy, low-ceilinged exhibition gallery at ground level.

A massive screen wall, clad in enamelled panels painted Manchester United red - and shaped to form an ‘F’ and an ‘M’ - binds the different spaces together: stairs and walkways cling to it and offer continually changing vistas of interior and exterior.

This is a museum that belongs to the real world; a huge area of glazing backed by robust structural members focuses on a young but stately lime tree outside and on the park where amateur football is played; another looks onto a row of terraced houses - homes of fans or at least natives of a footballing culture.

‘The form aims to encourage exploration through intrigue and continually changing vantage points, ’ says OMI. ‘Although it is not a large building, its massing addresses the strong shapes and heroic scale of the stadium.

Overall, there is an attempt to reconcile a series of opposites: heavy and light; unity and independence; intrigue and clarity; bright and dark.’

Frameworks of steel that form the pylons supporting the two new stands soar over the entrance building. Here the museum and the living game it celebrates come together: walking along a corridor you are suddenly in a glazed turret looking down on the deep green of the Preston pitch, on banks of blue terrace seating, advertising signs, warning notices, two men with a ladder and a bucket - onto the whole ball game.

It is like coming up from the turnstiles in the crowd of spectators for a Saturday match, crunched together, and stepping out of a badly lit tunnel into the huge space of any stadium. Unbidden, I took in the view and could almost hear the roar of the crowd and the referee’s whistle, which was the reaction the design team had in mind, says O’Dwyer.

Christopher Alexander’s ‘A Pattern Language’ is one inspiration behind OMI’s integration of design and the hoped-for reaction of user or visitor: people’s experience of its buildings really matters.

Due to its team approach, influences on OMI are many and varied. The detailing throughout is neat and unintrusive; services are buried in the big red screen wall after the ideas of Louis Kahn, with a nice effect in the rows of shiny air circulation nipples.

The lack of clutter in the new building contrasts noticeably with the ranks of exposed silver-clad or steel intestines of the services in the galleries, where concealment was not an option; yet intestines, thus neatly arrayed, have their own charm.

OMI has not laboured the football imagery. There is a neat, moveable dividing wall in the form of a huge football rattle.

Outside, structural steelwork forms goal posts and crossbar, below which a large area of glass is squared off with glazing bars which give a goal-net effect. An outdoor sculpture terrace can be viewed from the security of a glass wall along a walkway - its exhibits safe from prying fingers - but it has yet to be furnished.

Try the gift shop for football collectables: team shirts, teapots, kit and kitsch, not forgetting a lavatory seat finished in simulated-grass paint with matching bathroom mirror. The shop was positioned intentionally so as not to be the focal point of a visit to the museum, O’Dwyer admits, but it is easily accessible from the foyer, visible and very well stocked.

OMI’s input into the museum galleries was dictated by the nature of the voids under the new terraces that they occupy. It had to resolve problems with insulation and waterproofing - something that happens when a development is piecemeal, O’Dwyer remarks - and took the opportunity to leave exposed the stepped underside of one of the new terraces and its structural beams; again, the museum and the stadium mesh perfectly together.

The architects worked closely with Land Design Studio on the display spaces to integrate their different imperatives, to plot routes of discovery through the exhibition areas and to resolve in the entrance building the transition from the ground floor to the interactive galleries climbing above.

‘Too often, particularly in the recent flurry of National Lottery-funded museums, the design elements and participants have been disparate, the architecture not related to any internal function, and the interpretive process piecemeal and unimaginative, ’ says OMI.

The exhibition in the Finney Gallery is a remarkable social history in pictures, film, video, taped recordings and exhibits: including England international Billy Wright’s blazer; the neckbrace worn by Bert Trautmann, the former German paratrooper who broke his neck playing in goal for Manchester City in the 1956 FA Cup Final; Vera Lynn singing; Chamberlain declaring war; and Churchill fighting it.

That’s for the older folk: upstairs in the Shankly Gallery - named after the legendary Liverpool manager who once played for Preston - there is action and interaction for the younger football fan: games, digital interfaces, quizzes and educational facilities.

Here we go!

The museum is well signposted from the motorway until the very last minute when the motorist sees the stadium but not one indication of the museum or where to park. Someone deserves a yellow card.


The entrance building acts as a link between two new stands of the redeveloped Deepdale stadium and presented the main structural challenge. The remainder of the scheme involved the fit-out of areas provided within the football stand structures.

One of the original approaches to the structure of the museum entrance was to maintain a clear separation from that of the main stand. This proved to be impractical due to the complex interlink of ramps and bridges between the two buildings.

As the design of the museum was being developed during construction of one of the stands, it was decided to omit the triangular gable of the stand and incorporate it within the museum contract. This provided the additional time necessary to finalize the layout of the entrance building. The triangulated steel frame to the gable attracts significant loads due to wind and thermal expansion of the main stand roof structure. The design of the stand had to be amended to cater for the short-term exposure prior to completion of the museum entrance.

In the permanent condition, zones had to be allocated within the museum design to accommodate the tubular bracing necessary to resist lateral loads from the stadium roof structures. The museum entrance comprises a number of distinct structural elements constructed in reinforced concrete and structural steelwork which, in combination, provide the stability necessary to resist wind and notional loading on the building. The two-storey museum shop is effectively contained within a massive reinforced concrete box which, together with the reinforced concrete lift shaft, provides the anchor necessary to resist wind load on the front of the building. The red screen wall and the glazed blockwork walls are both supported on steel frames. The steel structures to these walls are braced in their own plane but rely on intersecting structures for lateral stability.

The walls to the shop and stair tower are constructed in fair faced in situ reinforced concrete. The regular arrangement of panels and bolt holes was achieved by use of a resin faced plywood panel formwork system.The walls to the shop are battered on the outer face and are up to 600mm in thickness. A key consideration in the design was the control of thermal and shrinkage cracking which proved to be the critical factor in design of reinforcement and concrete mixes.

The bridges between the entrance and the Bill Shankly Stand are of relatively long span and slender steelwork construction.They were designed and fabricated as a single unit incorporating a steel plate balustrade on one side and stressed skin floor panels to resist bending and torsion of the completed structure.

The balustrade to the other side of the bridge is glazed and supported by T-section posts.

The ground investigation confirmed varying depths of fill materials overlying the site. A piled foundation solution was adopted in keeping with the other structures on the site.Foundations to the entrance comprised continuous flight auger bored piles taken down into the underlying dense sands and gravels terminating at depths of 10-15m below ground level.

Elevated levels of land fill gases, in particular carbon dioxide, were identified in the vicinity of the site, possibly resulting from infill of clay pits from the former brick and tile works to the east of the site. The design of the ground floor slab incorporated a high-performance gas membrane and a system of passive venting to protect the structure against the ingress and accumulation of landfill gas.


Costs based on tender sum.Cost analysis is for entrance building only


Reinforced concrete piling with reinforced concrete ground beams and including gas membrane


Structural steel to frame and red screen wall frame including preparation and intumescent paint


Reinforced in situ concrete including coffered and troughed slabs

ROOF £160/m2

Reinforced in situ concrete slabs with inverted roof coverings, timber structure with warmdeck roof covering or zinc, galvanised steel rainwater pipework


Contractor designed aluminium rooflight glazing system adjacent to red screen wall


Reinforced in situ staircases, pre-cast concrete staircase, steel staircases, bridges and associated balustrading, IMO finish


Polished facing blockwork, steel profiled cladding, exposed reinforced concrete, contractor designed rainscreen cladding


Contractor designed windows, screens (including doors), curtain walling and football net glazing, glazed observation booth within floodlight tower


Polished facing blockwork, faced blockwork, steel profiled cladding, exposed reinforced concrete rainscreen cladding, WC cubicles


Solid core flush doors, some with circular vision panels, satin stainless ironmongery


Painted plaster, render, wall tiling on cement sand render


Screeded floors with rubber stud sheeting generally, floor tiling to WCs


Pressed metal cladding panels, zinc sheet, plasterboard on metal studs, Dampa suspended ceilings


Vanity units, cistern housing, shop counter, pivot door and display, reception desk, reception office fitted furniture, kitchen worktops etc


WCs, urinals, WHBs, sinks


Soil vent and waste pipework


Hot and cold water installation


Ventilation installation including ductwork and dampers, grilles, chilled water installation and LPHW heating system


Lighting, power distribution, car park lighting


One lift installation plus one wheelchair lift


Fire alarm, access control, lightning protection


CCTV, public address/voice alarm, telephone, security, data wiring and specialist containers.


Holes, supports, boxings with access panels, louvres, trenches ducts in connection with mechanical and electrical services



Cost summary

Cost per m2 Percentage (£) of total



Frame 80 4

Upper floors 29 1

Roof 160 7

Rooflights 21 1

Staircases and bridges 74 3

External walls 196 9

Windows and external doors 200 9

Internal walls and partitions 164 8

Internal doors 17 1

Group element total 941 43


Wall finishes 16 1

Floor finishes 32 1

Ceiling finishes 20 1

Group element total 68 3



Sanitary appliances 7 0.5

Disposal installations 7 0.5

Water installations 9 1

Space heating/Air treatment 188 9

Electrical services 96 4

Lift and conveyor installations 91 4

Protective installations 15 1

Communication installation 48 2

Builders’work in connection 27 1

Group element total 488 23


TOTAL 2,174

Costs supplied by Frank Whittle Partnership


TENDER DATE 21 December 1999

START DATE 7 February 2000

COMPLETION DATE 16 February 2001


FORM OF CONTRACT JCT98 with Quantities and with Contractors Design Portion Supplement



CLIENT The National Football Museum

ARCHITECT OMI Architects: Philip O’Dwyer, Adam Gray, David McCall, Neil Dimelow, Ben Otter, Mark Percival, Alaster Smurthwaite, Kevin Logan, David Pearson, Kirsty Yaldron.

PROJECT MANAGER Frank Whittle Partnership







QUANTITY SURVEYOR Frank Whittle Partnership

CONTRACTOR Birse Construction

SUBCONTRACTORS glazing systems Mag Hansen; mechanical T Jolly (Services); disabled hoist Movement Management; shopfitting D & S Collinge; cladding and roofing contractors AMS Roofing; structural steelwork and architectural metalwork Marlahart Structural Services; lighting Erco Lighting; automatic entrance doors Geze UK; render Sto; lifts Ace Elevators; polished blockwork Forticrete, supplied by Taylor Maxwell; zinc roof and soffit lining Longworth Metal Roofing; studded rubber flooring James Halstead; electrical Chris Bowker; red screen wall panels Eternit Building Materials; profiled cladding Plannja

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