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Chill in the air.

This month the Royal Air Force Museum proudly opens the National Cold War Exhibition at RAF Cosford. Housed in a purpose-built hangar, designed by Feilden Clegg Bradley, the exhibition includes 17 original aircraft from the Cold War era and seven 'hotspots' that house multimedia presentations. Derived from the original exhibition title, Divided World--Connected World, the building is one of the architect's most formally arresting buildings, and presented a number of significant structural challenges in relation to wind loads and loading capacity for exhibits that weigh up to 13 tonnes each. Working with engineers from the Michael Barclay Partnership, the steel structure consists of a central spine, 25m high and 135m long, braced by two opposing hyperbolic paraboloids. At 8.4m centres, set on two triangular plans, each of the straight steel truss rafters steps out to create a graceful curve that sweeps down from 90 degrees at the spine to 25 degrees at the gable ends.

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While the architect's original concept was enticingly clear, based on tensions and divisions of two opposing ideologies, the loss of the proposed concrete spine dramatically reduced the potency of the organisational diagram. As a result, the interior is now read as a single volume with little or no tension between each 'opposing' side, and there is a sense that the exhibition design has failed to fully exploit the opportunities offered by the building. Despite this, the overall effect is dramatic and awe inspiring. The internal environment is comfortable. Lighting has been extremely well handled. And, long views make up for the lost opportunity to exploit spatial division. For those who grew up with Airfix models suspended above their beds, the experience will be especially appealing. Gone is the thread and Blu Tack, however, with this installation being undertaken by the inventively named expert rigging company, Unusual Rigging.

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www.nationalcoldwarexhibition.org.uk
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Author:Gregory, Rob
Publication:The Architectural Review
Date:Feb 1, 2007
Words:319
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