American Air Museum, Duxford (1998)






Foster and Partners created a dramatic setting for the Imperial War Museum’s collection of US combat aircraft. Duxford is a former airbase, used by the US Air Force from 1943 to 1945, so it was an ideal location for the museum.

A single exhibition space houses the huge aircraft that make up the collection. Some hang from the ceiling in positions of flight and others are arranged on the ground to enable visitors to view them close up.

The building is reminiscent of the cockpit of an aeroplane. It is no static museum and this is reflected in its design. Visitors can watch through glazed facades the take off, flight and landing of many of these historic aircraft, which range from the First World War to the Gulf War of the early 1990s. A permanently grounded Concorde is also on display.

The building was designed to provide a neutral backdrop to the exhibits -simple in form, a half-ellipse in plan, with an emphasis on clarity and

natural light. The concrete-panelled roof was developed with Ove Arup. The roof’s single span is was the largest of its kind in Europe and its apparent simplicity belied the complexity of the engineering involved; the stresses created by hanging aircraft from the roof required special engineering and a thick shell.

The judges said of the museum, ‘We thought the Foster Museum was a very special building and yet, unusually perhaps for Foster’s, almost self-effacing. It has a quality beyond that of simply being a museum; it is a memorial to the American Airforce in the Second World War. The concrete roof structure conveys a feeling of compression, which emphasises the power of a simple idea. This is definitely a “less is more” building.’

Architects: Foster and Partners
Commissioned 1987
Completed 1997

American Air Museum, Duxford, © Nigel YoungAmerican Air Museum, Duxford, © Nigel YoungAmerican Air Museum, Duxford, © Nigel YoungAmerican Air Museum, Duxford, © Nigel YoungAmerican Air Museum, Duxford, © Nigel Young