Unsupported browser

For a better experience please update your browser to its latest version.

Your browser appears to have cookies disabled. For the best experience of this website, please enable cookies in your browser

We'll assume we have your consent to use cookies, for example so you won't need to log in each time you visit our site.
Learn more

National Cold War Exhibition Museum at RAF Cosford, Shropshire by FCB

  • Comment


Feilden Clegg Bradley Architects (FCB) was formed in 1978 by Richard Feilden and Peter Clegg. Keith Bradley joined in 1987, becoming a senior partner in 1997. The practice’s expertise in environmentally friendly design has earned it a Queen’s Award for Sustainable Development. Its Northampton Academy featured in AJ 15.06.06 In a Surrey garden at the beginning of August 1945 it was teatime. It was warm and sunny, the war in Europe was over, the atmosphere was relaxed and the future looked full of promise.

The radio could be heard from inside the house and a BBC news reader’s voice was heard saying ‘Today an American aircraft dropped an atomic bomb on the Japanese city of Hiroshima’.

An icy chill spread through everyone present. The world had changed forever. Mankind had the capacity to destroy itself.

And, contemplating history, it seemed likely it would.

News of the scale of death and destruction came later, as did information of the second bomb dropped on Nagasaki.

There were forecasts of comparable destruction after a similar attack on Europe. Atomic fear permeated the population and to a lesser extent still remains; this time because of terrorism.

The only imaginable defence against attack was instant and devastating counter-attack - mutual deterrence. Achieving this would depend on ways to deliver bombs by air or submarine.

The defence industry embarked on a programme for super submarines and a wide range of new aircraft to counter a new threat. As it transpired, deterrence not only prevented atomic strikes but major world wars of any sort. The aircraft and submarines were never used in anger and become obsolete.

To commemorate the strange period of d鴥nte between the great powers of the last half of the 20th century; to remind subsequent generations; and to be a testament to an enormous international investment in to a war which never occurred, the RAF has preserved equipment from that time and created a new museum known as the National Cold War Exhibition at its museum at RAF Cosford, Shropshire.

The project was made possible by funding from the Heritage Lottery Fund, Advantage West Midlands, the European Regional Development Fund, Bridgenorth District Council, the Rural Regeneration Zone, the Ministry of Defence and the museum’s own fund raising activities.

The architect was FCB, with structural Engineer Michael Barclay Partnership and exhibition design by Neil Potter.

As in all modern museums its main thrust is education and the building includes classrooms which allow online access.

National Curriculum packs and audio and video tours are also available.

For the first time Britain’s three V bombers - Vulcan, Victor and Valiant - are on public display together with other relevant contemporary artifacts; a section of the Berlin Wall, missiles, an iconic statue of Lenin, models of submarines, armoured fighting vehicles and quaint symbols of everyday life on both sides of the war: a Trabant, a Mini and a VW Beetle.

The architectural problem of designing a building for a static exhibition of aircraft of various sizes, plus ancillary equipment and exhibition graphics, is that the shapes of aeroplanes do not fit easily or economically into rectangular buildings.

The skill of what FCB has done at Cosford is to fit so many (17) varied aircraft into such a compact group, by conceiving what is in fact a massive three-dimensional linear sculpture, made of individual aircraft. Some are on the ground, others hang from the roof, pointing up or down, as if in flight, or flying level or banked, all packed in as if in a hair-raising intimate dogfight. It is dramatic.

Accommodating so many disparate aircraft in the minimum space has yielded a floor plan of two triangles brushing past each other with a gap between. Above the gap are a walkway and a viewing platform, under a continuous rooflight, which is also the structural ridge of the building. On either side of this ridge the external roofs drop vertically or sweep to the ground or lower wall in catenary-like curves. Formed in sheet-aluminum standing-seam roof cladding, these perfectly complement the dynamic geometry of the building, sweeping and soaring as an appropriately powerful structure in the airfield landscape.

Apart from the broad sweeps of untreated aluminium either side of the roof ridge, at low level, under the eaves, there are areas of translucent interlocking vertical glass panels to provide daylight at exhibition floor level. The two elevations of the short ends of the building are filled with translucent fabric panels on demountable steel frames to allow aircraft to be taken out or replaced. They also provide diffuse daylight for the full height of the cathedral-scale interior.

The huge external scale of the simply-detailed smooth and sinuous building is made more dramatic by limited colours and materials: aluminium, white fabric, the green of thick glass and fair-faced-concrete walls. This is a carbon- and waterpreserving building. And in the background there is a wide sweep of airfield grass.

Internally there are two concrete floor levels down the line of the roof ridge. On one side there is an upper floor as well as one at ground level. The upper level is exhibition space. Its lower level contains a lecture theatre, three classrooms and WCs and is entirely constructed of fair-faced-concrete walls and floors. It is carefully detailed with great simplicity. Woodwork is dark stained, carpets are dark grey, simple theatre seats are upholstered bright red.

The major exhibition pieces are interspersed with information, interactive displays and some brightly coloured drum-shaped theme units which examine in detail key incidents in the Cold War such as the Cuban Missile Crisis, the Berlin Airlift and the Space Race.

The steel-web roof structure is untreated and rusted.

A policy decision was taken to protect the museum collection from the weather and to create the 6,200m 2 display-hall environment by achieving humidity control without using energy-intensive air conditioning but through controlled ventilation, low conservation heating, exposed thermal mass and a heavily insulated roof structure. It was also decided that the structural steelwork of the roof should not be painted.

Internally, colours are as muted as those externally: concrete, aluminium, galvanised coating, the rust colour of the roof beams and the colours of the aircraft. Details throughout are simple, direct and tough. The concrete hall floor is power fl oated, with a hardened surface. The entire building has a floor area of 7,000m 2, and its approximate cost is 9 million.

Within the vast exhibition hall there are aircraft from both sides of the Cold War, poised beside each other in a way unimagined by their makers. Despite their size, complexity and proximity, the visitor has easy access to see them close to, in a good light, without feeling constrained.

In recent years, there has been a trend to design buildings that exploit the possibilities of computer calculation - to create buildings in extreme and distorted forms, out of architectural caprice, into which accommodation seems to be forced as best possible. FCB has not done this. It has designed a dynamic and exciting building, unlike any other, by fulfilling its client’s brief meticulously, economically and extremely satisfactorily. The form and shape of the building entirely represent the demands of its need, content and use. How it looks is what it is and there is nothing superfluous, unnecessary, fanciful or extravagant.

Taking a wide but still admiring view, the fabric panels at each end of the building look like temporary expedients, which in a way they are, but the detail around their edges is not as deft as elsewhere. And will they make full contribution to environmentcontrol in extreme weather? Is it questionable that in the long view a deliberately untreated rusting steel structure will be maintenance free? Also, the steel frame itself does not seem to have the clarity and simplicity of the rest of the building. Finally, bearing in mind inevitable museum fatigue, some clear glass in the caf頡rea would soothe the eyes and remind visitors they are actually in an operational airfield.

The museum’s promotional material says that the building’s two massive triangles divided by a central walkway represent a world divided by the opposing ideologies of democratic countries and the Eastern Bloc. This will not be perceived by the average visitor, and to suggest such an arbitrary concept diminishes the success of the architecture. What is true and appropriate is that as the building is approached it has, by design, shape and construction, a slightly forbidding and rebarbative air. It is not a gentle building and it clearly has a sombre theme. It represents the Cold War and that is what it is about. The whole thing is a metaphor for the nuclear threat, which remains with us and is not concluded yet.

Costs Costs based on gross internal floor area.

Costs refer to tender sum

SUBSTRUCTURE Foundations/slab 97.50/m 2Excavation; filling to form compacted base, concrete pad foundations and footings SUPERSTRUCTURE Frame 242.40/m 2Works above slab level; steelwork costs including erection, connections, inspections, preparation and painting to the structural frame; bridge and spine walls and secondary steel to rooflights, lifts and stairs Upper floors 20.50/m 2Works to the reinforced-concrete suspended slab, waffle-suspended slab and cantilevered slab; 6mm Dubar slab to upper surface and soffit; galvanised mild-steel balustrades, galvanised mesh infill Roof 171.60/m 2Standing-seam aluminium sheet cladding (Kalzip); 100mm-thick insulation; ‘Plannja’ decking 160mm deep; steel decking 650mm wide Rooflights 9.90/m 2’Coxdome Baselock’ polycarbonate roof lights 170mm wide Staircases 74.10/m 2Galvanised mild-steel cat ladder (ship’s stairs) landings at 3000mm; mild-steel stair and landings (public stairs) treads, risers and handrails; painted finish External walls 97.10/m 2Single-layer PVC-coated polyester fabric membrane with fabric end wall; Kalplank aluminium rainscreen cladding, 100mm insulation, vapour barrier, profiled metal sheeting Windows 42.70/m 2Double-glazed ‘Pilkington Proflit’ glass channel (eight wires) in aluminium framed structural glass panels External doors 3.50/m 2Main entrance doors, automatic-opening glass sliding double doors; basement, fire escape, double doors; plant room Internal walls and partitions 21.30/m 2Plasterboard, metal stud partition, one layer plasterboard both sides, skim joints; reinforcedconcrete wall 225mm thick (basement); blockwork 140mm thick; glazed containment for the lift; WC cubicles Internal doors 5.90/m2 Solid-core, double and single door and frame, black oak finish, stainless-steel ironmongery; overpanel and acoustics

INTERNAL FINISHES Wall finishes 2.80/m 2Skirting black oak, ceramic-tile splashbacks; emulsion paint Floor finishes 8.20/m 2Resin floor in screed base, polished concrete finish with carpet and underlay Ceiling finishes 2.90/m 2Acoustic panels; plasterboard ceiling, emulsion paint

FITTINGS AND FURNISHINGS 7.90/m 2Lecture theatre seating with writing tablets; kitchen fit-out with servery; classroom fitouts SERVICES Sanitary appliances and services 48.30/m 2equipment Cleaners’ sinks, WC suite, urinals with air flushing kit, Unisex disabled WC Drainage and disposal installations 46.10/m 2Rainwater disposal and connections to surface drains; rainwater-storage tank connections to foul-water drainage; drainage to below-ground drainage systems with pumped drainage to basement Water installations 9.30/m 2Cold water distribution, hot water plant; hot and cold water supply to toilets and servery Electrical services 61.20/m 2Mains and sub-mains cabling and containment, LV switchgear and distribution boards; lighting to internal areas; power/data below-ground ducts Lift and conveyor installations 9.20/m 213-person MRL lift and disabled lifting platform Builders’ work in connection 12.00/m 2M&E installation; lift installation.

EXTERNAL WORKS, LANDSCAPING, 93.30/m 2ANCILLARY BUILDINGS External drainage gully/French drain; Aco drains; demolition of three buildings, 150mm concrete road with fabric reinforcement; precast-concrete kerb including foundations; bitumen macadam road including sub-base; French drains in car park areas; Fibredeck roads including tarmacadam and sub-base; galvanised tubular mild-steel balustrade (entrance); signage and road markings; break-up of existing materials.


  • Comment

Have your say

You must sign in to make a comment

Please remember that the submission of any material is governed by our Terms and Conditions and by submitting material you confirm your agreement to these Terms and Conditions.

Links may be included in your comments but HTML is not permitted.

Related Jobs

AJ Jobs