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Feilden Fowles wins National Railway Museum’s Central Hall contest

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Feilden Fowles’ growing reputation continues to blossom after it saw off a shortlist of top names to land the new £16.5 million entrance hall project at The National Railway Museum in York

The practice, whose Yorkshire Sculpture Park pavilion was shortlisted for last year’s RIBA Stirling Prize, was chosen for the Central Hall scheme ahead of Carmody Groarke, 6a architects, Heneghan Peng Architects and France’s Atelier d’Architecture Philippe Prost.

The two-stage competition, organised by Malcolm Reading Consultants on behalf of the Science Museum Group, called for a 4,500m² gallery and gateway structure to sit between the museum’s Great Hall and Station Hall exhibition spaces at the museum’s entrance.

Feilden Fowles proposed a ‘low-tech’ low-carbon rotunda with a spoke-like Douglas fir ceiling. The judges praised the design ‘for its elegance, ambitious energy strategy and [for creating] intriguing new visitor journeys’.

The jury citation adds: ‘Inspired by the site’s former uses, the design concept references the history of locomotive roundhouses and railway turntables with its central two-storey rotunda, which is clad with recycled patinated copper and lit with high clerestory glazing …

‘The design concept expresses the team’s low-tech philosophy, dramatically reducing reliance on concrete and steel to lower embodied carbon through a beautifully crafted timber frame structure.

’A combination of passive design principles and active systems are proposed to reduce the site-wide operational carbon footprint by 80 per cent. Fully recycled copper and local York stone are also suggested as part of this strategy.’

The scheme has been developed with Max Fordham, which Feilden Fowles is already working with on a new building for the National Trust at Fountains Abbey, and structural engineer Price & Myers.

National Railway Museum director Judith McNicol said: ‘[The architects] demonstrated a real sensitivity to the site’s railway heritage and to the historic character of the city of York.

‘The building will play a vital role in linking the museum and will provide a focal point for the wider York Central development. We were delighted to share all the finalists’ design concepts both online and at the museum; this gave us a real sense of the incredible enthusiasm the public have for our vision to become the world’s railway museum.’

The commission forms part of the museum’s wider Vision 2025 regeneration masterplan and comes a year after the museum abandoned an earlier search for a design team for a major £12 million overhaul of its Great Hall after the Heritage Lottery Fund rejected a funding application.

Each of the finalists received a £30,000 honorarium. A total of 76 teams entered the competition.

Separately, De Matos Ryan, Hayhurst & Co, Dutch practice Opera Amsterdam, new London firm Studio C102, and Tate Harmer have all been named on the shortlist for a new £3 million Wonderlab gallery at the museum. A winner has yet to be announced.

The National Railway Museum opened in 1975 on the former 8ha site of the York North Locomotive Depot. It features more than 100 locomotives and 200 other items of rolling stock. The museum is the largest of its type in the country and has 750,000 visitors a year.

Feilden Fowles’ scheme is expected to be built in time for the museum’s 50th anniversary in 2025.

Feilden fowles 03 axonometric

Feilden fowles 03 axonometric

COMMENT: ‘A DEFINING YEAR FOR THE PRACTICE’ – Edmund Fowles, director

This is our largest public commission and most significant design competition win. It’s a tremendous boost for the whole team, especially given the challenges facing all businesses trying to sustain workflow amid the Covid-19 crisis. 

The past year has been a defining year for the practice, with the completion of our first major public building last spring, The Weston at the Yorkshire Sculpture Park, and its shortlisting for the Stirling Prize. Until this point we’d been described as the ‘perpetually emerging’ practice. 

The National Railway Museum win feels like a real milestone for us and coincides with the practice’s 10th birthday. Our proposal splits the new exhibition hall from the arrival hall, creating two contrasting volumes with strong identities and enabling a great level of flexibility. 

Our design had perhaps a more identifiable national museum aesthetic and we understand the museum really liked our concept of a simple rotunda which unified the disparate elements but also references locomotive roundhouses and the site’s rich railway history.

The whole lifespan of the building’s material fabric has been carefully considered

Our ‘low-tech’ approach is an attitude we’ve been exploring for some time in our journey towards delivering net zero-carbon projects. It combines our values on social and environmental sustainability, reducing our reliance on highly processed, energy-intensive materials and systems in favour of more basic, lean and passive approaches. 

The whole lifespan of the building’s material fabric has been carefully considered, hence why there is extensive use of timber in the primary structure, a dramatic reduction in the use of concrete, as well as recycled materials such as the copper cladding. 

We are minimising the impact of the building, both during its construction and operating life, and considering what will happen to the materials when it has to be dismantled or reappropriated. In this way we intend the new Central Hall to be an exemplar of designing for the circular economy.

The shortlist

  • WINNER: Feilden Fowles (UK)
  • 6a architects (UK) and OFFICE Kersten Geers David Van Severen (Belgium)
  • Atelier d’Architecture Philippe Prost (France)
  • Carmody Groarke (UK)
  • Heneghan Peng Architects (Ireland)
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