Royal Air Force Museum, Cosford

Royal Air Force Museum, Cosford


Feilden Clegg Bradley Architects

Structural Engineer

Michael Barclay Partnership LLC

Steelwork Contractor

S H Structures Ltd

Main Contractor

Galliford Try Construction


Royal Airforce Museum

The brief called for a masterplan for the site as a whole that would include a modern museum building. The new building was to preserve the most precious aircraft and form the background to a display that would place the Cold War into the context of the times and be more accessible to the public. The museum was to include an auditorium, two classrooms and, later, a shop.

There had to be a balance between housing all the endangered aircraft under a simple cover giving only weather protection and, at the other extreme, protecting a small number within a fully controlled environment. The choice was for an insulated enclosure that gave the 7300m2of exhibition space needed to house and reasonably protect all the military aircraft and a small number of civilian aeroplanes, together with the necessary ancillary accommodation.

The building’s form is intended to represent a fractured space in response to this concept. A simple rectangle is slipped sideways along a diagonal “fault” line giving two opposed right angle triangles. The diagonal or hypotenuse is raised as a high level spine with opposing roofs sloping down to the longer external sides of the triangles. The spine is broken in the middle to provide a connection between the display areas on the two sides, which step up from low to high and reflect the sloping natural ground.

The lecture theatre, classrooms and ancillary spaces are accommodated below the higher floor. The steel superstructure consists of a braced frame spine 25m high by 135m long, broken in the middle by a 75m “bridge”. The spine supports a series of steel truss rafters 8.4m apart with slopes that vary progressively from 25o at the gables to the vertical at the line where the roof meets the spine. Apart from its visual impact, the warped shape benefits the structural performance. The enhanced stiffness resulting from the interaction of the rafters through linking pieces allows a shallower structural depth and a significant saving in material.

The spine walls were designed to be self- supporting stable structures with the cladding in place. Having erected these walls the contractor elected to erect the rafters in a manner different from that which had been assumed. The sloping elbow pieces along the sides were erected first, the pinned bearing being temporarily fixed. Then the rafters were installed working in from the gable ends. The rafters, divided into up to three pieces, were lifted and supported in place by three mobile cranes, while erectors in cherry pickers completed the bolted flange plate connections. All the components had been trial assembled in the works, erection was fast and accurate.

Judges’ Comment


This striking building celebrates theend of ‘the cold war’, and its diagonally-split rectangular form reflects the schism between the super-powers in the second half of the 20th Century.

The large space, some 25 metres high, has a hyperbolic paraboloid roof on a braced steel frame. V-bombers are suspended by steel cables from the roof, whilst other aircraft are parked below and film scenes heighten theeffectiveness of thedisplay. The mood is hard and uncompromising, with unpainted steel trussed rafters beneath the sweeping roof cladding, providing an effective and economic envelope.

The building presents a stunning spectacle on this windswept airfield, and provides an appropriate setting for an evocative experience.