American Air Museum

  • Duxford (UK)

  • 1997

  • Contractor John Sisk & Son Ltd. U.K.

  • Photos: N. Atkinson/ R. Bryant/ Arcaid/ N. Young

The American Air Museum in Duxford, near Cambridge, designed by Foster and Partners architetects and Ove Arup consulting engineers, has been commissioned by the Imperial War Museum. Its aim was to realise a building able to shelter a collection of rare American war planes, comprising aircraft dating from World War II to the Gulf War. The design difficulties faced by Sir Norman Foster, were particularly hard to solve. The result achieved is extremely interesting. The building impresses for the purity of its shapes and tones; this is a wonderful “game” between shape and technology. The shape The shape of the building was taken from a toroidal geometrical figure, with a large radius of 277m and small radius of 63 m. The achieved architectural result disguises the abnormal dimensions of the building, especially if observed from a certain distance, making light what would otherwise be heavy and proportioning what would be otherwise abnormal. The curtain walling consists of a circular sector of 63 m radius, 90 m width and 18 m max. height, and it has a modularity (300 x 5500 mm of clear glass) that disguises the reference points so that the real dimensions of the building are fully revealed only at a short distance from the building itself. The roof membrane, which in its lower part is covered by grass, seems to dematerialise the building, creating an illusion of connection between earth and sky.


  • Curtain wallings (fully removable)

  • H= 18 m. structural mullions

  • 3000 x 5000 mm units

The technology

The curtain walling is composed of a main steel structure to which an aluminium grid, containing the 19 mm clear glazing, is fixed. The main structure is made of 25 mm steel twin plate mullions, which are spaced and assembled by means of bolts. Every mullion is of different height and shape, the plasma cut being shaped according to the diagram of the bending moment to which it is subjected. The mullions are assembled by means of steel transoms of rigid joint tubular section, in order to create a grid structure of the “Virendeel” type. The “Virendeel” are connected by means of transoms having a sliding joint able to absorb the structure thermal expansion. The mullions are hinged at the bottom while at the top they are provided with a special fixing system which allows them to absorb the roof movements of up to 200 mm on the vertical axis and ± 50 mm on the horizontal one. The aluminium grid allows the insertion and locking of the glazing units to the steel main structure. Because of the different materials used (steel, aluminium and glass) and because of the huge dimensions of the panels (3000 x 5500 mm) special devices were used to absorb the thermal expansion, complying, at the same time, with the water and wind tight requirements. The huge dimensions and the load of the different parts of the whole structure, also required a complicated operative design, which also included special site equipment. The toroidal glazed slot light, having a width varying from 3000 mm to 500 mm, is particularly interesting, because it cuts the building roof and lights up the internal ramp of the exhibition room. The realisation of this sky light was possible thanks to sophisticated three- dimensional drawing programs


Norman Foster and partners

Norman Foster was born in Manchester, England in 1935. After graduating from Manchester university school of architecture and city planning in 1961, which he entered at age 21, he won a fellowship to Yale University where he gained a masters degree in architecture and where he got to know Richard Rogers. They became very close friends and in 1963 he worked with him and Sue Rogers, Gorgie Wolton and his wife, Wendy Foster, as a member of 'team 4' until foster associates was found in 1967 (now known as foster and partners).Since its inception the practice has received more than 190 awards and citations for excellence and has won over 50 national and international competitions. 1968 - 1983 cooperation with Buckminster Fuller on a number of projects. Foster was awarded the RIBA royal gold medal in 1983, and in 1990 the RIBA trustees medal was made for the Willis Faber Dumas building. He was knighted in 1990, and received the gold medal of the AIA in 1994. He was appointed officer of the order of the arts and letters by the ministry of culture in France in 1994. In 1999 Sir Norman Foster has been honoured with a life peerage, taking the title Lord Foster Of Thames Bank, and in the same year he was awarded the prestigious 21st Pritzker architecture prize. His remarkable buildings and urban projects have transformed cityscapes, renewed transportation systems and restored city centres all over the world. many of these aesthetically and technologically groundbreaking projects are based on ecology - conscious concepts, setting new standards for the interaction of buildings with their environment.