Foster + Partners

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Duxford airfield in Cambridgeshire was a Battle of Britain fighter station. Later, as one of a hundred US Airforce bases in Britain, it was the headquarters of the 78th Fighter Group. Now maintained by the Imperial War Museum, it has the finest collection of American aircraft outside the United States. Nineteen of its thirty-eight aircraft are airworthy and it attracts over 350,000 visitors each year to its summer air displays. The centrepiece of the collection is also the largest − a B-52 bomber.

The brief for the Air Museum was to provide a permanent home for the B-52 and twenty other aircraft dating from the First World War to the Gulf War and to commemorate the role of the US Air Force in the Second World War and the thousands of airmen who lost their lives

There was also a desire for the Museum to highlight the take-offs and landings during air shows and create a window on to the runway. The dimensions of the B-52 (a 61-metre wingspan and 16-metre-high tail fin) established the building's height and width, and provided the principle axis through which the Museum is entered.

The building's drama comes from the powerful arc of the roof − engineered to support suspended aircraft − and the sweep of the glazed wall overlooking the runway. A continuous strip of glazing around the base of the vault washes the interior in daylight. The result is a light and open space, despite the fact that the structure is partly dug into the ground, a formal device that has been compared to the Royal Air Force's 'blister hangars', which were designed to be invisible from the air.

In 1998 the Museum won the Stirling Prize RIBA Building of the Year Award. The jury wrote: 'The success of this project lies in the resonance between the elegant engineered form of the building and the technically driven shapes of the aeroplanes. The building itself sustains the fascination of these objects.'

“Foster’s genius has been shaping a building that connects the static aircraft gathered in the new building with their flying cousins outside it. More than this, he has designed one of the grandest, yet most modest, of museums.” Jonathan Glancey, The Guardian, 28 June 1997

“Unlike so many others, the American Air Museum at Duxford exudes a spirit of youth and vitality, telling its story of epic and necessary courage, technical ingenuity and sheer high spirits. Foster’s architecture strikes exactly this note.” Neil Parkyn, RSA Journal, November/December 1997

“Duxford is not a static museum but a living institution. Many of the planes there are still airworthy and the building is designed to allow the exhibits to come and go.” Norman Foster

“Duxford brings together two disciplines that for me are most exhilarating – architecture and flight. To create a new home for those fabulous old planes was a great privilege.” Norman Foster

Appointment: 1987
Completion: 1997

Area: 7 400m²
Capacity: It attracts some 400,000 visitors per year, 30,000 of which are school children and students

Client: Imperial War Museum at Duxford, American Air Museum in Britain

Structural Engineer: Ove Arup & Partners
Quantity Surveyor: Davis Langdon and Everest
M+E Engineer: Roger Preston & Partners

Additional Consultants: Rutherford Consultants, Aerospace Structural and Mechanical Engineering Engineer, Hannah Reed and Associates

Awards

  • Celebrating Construction Achievement Award
  • Concrete Society Award - Winner
  • Design Council Millennium Product Award
  • Civic Trust Award
  • Stirling Prize RIBA Building of the Year Award
  • RIBA Architecture Award
  • Royal Fine Art Commission BSkyB Building of the Year Award,
  • AIA London/UK Chapter Excellence in Design Commendation,
  • British Guild of Travel Writers Silver Unicorn Award
  • British Construction Industry Awards, High Commendation,

Features

6,400 m2 of exhibition and ancillary space
General dimensions 90 x 65 metres.
90m wide front glass.

Get Directions

Opening Hours: Open daily except 24, 25 and 26 December.
Winter 2011/2012 (30 October 2011 to mid March 2012)
10.00am - 4.00pm (Last admission 3.00pm)
Please note that opening hours to get onboard Concorde differ from the Museum opening hours.
It is recommended that visitors enter the Museum by 3.00pm (in Winter) and by 5.00pm (in Summer). There will be no free admission after this time.