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Nex’s RAF Museum revamp takes flight

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Nex Architecture has unveiled its plans for a multi-million pound overhaul of the RAF Museum in London as part of the Royal Air Force’s 2018 centenary programme

The project, which received planning permission this month, aims to upgrade visitor facilities and raise the profile of the airfield heritage of the site on the edge of the former Hendon Aerodrome in Colindale, north London.

The airfield, one of the first in the UK, was a Battle of Britain airbase and has hosted the museum since 1972.

The scheme marks the second phase of the RAF centenary programme and is being supported by a £4,595,600 grant from the Heritage Lottery Fund. The first phase saw the opening of the First World War in the Air exhibition in December 2014.

Nex hopes to improve the visitor journey through the museum – which is currently dominated by car parking and suffers from the lack of a clear route through the exhibition spaces – by providing a new entrance and visitor centre in its Hangar 1 building.

The new foyer will feature a 40m-long entrance with a deep, cantilevered roof canopy for sheltering crowds, while the hangar will be reconfigured to incorporate a new café, shop, members’ room, public viewing galleries overlooking the aircraft and spaces for flexible use.

Inspired by the overlapping blades of a jet turbine engine, the new facility will be clad in extruded aluminium fins arranged radially.

Construction, which is due to start on site in January and be completed in Spring 2018 in time for the centenary, will take place around the museum’s resident Sunderland flying boat, as it is too fragile to be moved. A new industrial door will enable future access for other larger aircraft.

Nex is also converting Building 52, a semi-derelict former 1930s officers’ mess on another part of the site into a new 170-seat restaurant.

The building’s original brick walls and steel roof trusses will be complemented by new ash panelling and display cabinets and stained oak flooring. Other features include metal display cases, glazed roof lights and parachute-style lights suspended from the ceiling.

Alan Dempsey, founding director of Nex, said: ‘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 in their centenary year and beyond.’

A landscaped circular ‘taxiway’ at the centre of the site, designed by Agence TER, will facilitate access to all exhibitions.

Project data

Location Colindale, north London
Type of project Museum
Client Royal Air Force Museum
Architect Nex
Landscape architect Agence TER
Structural engineer Techniker
M&E consultant E+M Tecnica
Project Manager Ridge
Quantity surveyor Ridge
Lighting consultant DHA Design
Main contractor Not yet appointed
Funding Part-funded by Heritage Lottery Fund
Tender date November 2016
Start on site date January 2017
Completion date Spring 2018
Contract duration 18months approx
Gross internal floor area Hangar 1: 5,200m²; Building 52: 640m²
Form of contract Hangar 1 and Landscaping – Design and Build; Building 52 – traditional
Total cost Undisclosed

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