Milestones of Flight, RAF Hendon

Milestones of Flight, RAF Hendon


Feilden Clegg Bradley Architects LLP

Structural Engineer

Buro Happold

Steelwork Contractor

S H Structures Ltd

Main Contractor

Norwest Holst Construction Ltd


The Royal Airforce Museum, Hendon

Feilden Clegg Bradley was appointed in 1999 to consider the phased development of the RAF Museum at Hendon. The Museum needed additional museum space and higher quality accommodation for both permanent and temporary exhibits, and a building that would act as a focus point for the whole site.

The first phase comprises the new “Milestones in Flight” exhibition: a collection of classic aircraft selected from aviation’s 100 year history. This project received a £5.15 million Heritage Lottery award in 1999, went on site in 2002 and was opened to the public on 17 December 2003 on the centenary of the first powered flight by the Wright brothers.

The building bridges the gap between the existing disparate museum buildings. It takes the form of a simple barrel-vaulted structure enclosing the maximum possible volume and providing a structurally efficient frame from which to suspend aircraft.

The barrel vault is clad externally in stainless steel, evoking the sleek fuselages of modern aircraft, and internally in semi-translucent fabric panels which conjure up images of the stick and dope construction of early aircraft. The two ends of the building are entirely glazed in cast glass channels which glow at night and provide diffused light during the day. Internally a series of staggered mezzanine boxes and walkways form a building within a building.
The building form is echoed within the curves of the dramatic steel structure marking the museum entrance. Developed with the Japanese-born sculptor and former architect Kisa Kawakami, ‘Sky Dance’ rises 25 metres into the air, suggesting aspects of aircraft structure, airflow and flight.
Within the building, pollution, temperature and humidity levels are regulated by means of an air-conditioning system. After extensive environmental studies examining the possibility of using passive controls this was seen as the only option given the fragile, and often priceless, nature of the aircraft.

However, unlike all the other museum buildings, which are essentially black box spaces, the building has a strong emphasis on natural light. A continuous roof light at the apex of the barrel vault allows daylight to fall onto the back of the fabric panels, at certain times of day creating huge scalloped shadows. The fabric also acts as an environmental filter preventing harmful UV light from damaging the exhibits.

The Hendon project was severely cash limited but was nevertheless completed both on time and within budget whilst providing a high value for money building of this type and use (in terms of cost/square metre.)

The project value was £7.2 million with a building cost of £5,293,696 (cost per square metre £1,713). Building Area – 3090m2

Judges’ Comment


A crisp solution to provide flexible space to display historic aircraft. The barrel vaulted steel truss structure allows the suspension of aircraft in many different combinations. The incorporation of a membrane inner lining enhances the effectiveness of the space.

The striking entrance canopy/sculpture required skilful fabrication.