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SSDA Awards

Merit: A400M MRO Facility, RAF Brize Norton

The 22,000m², three-bay maintenance hangar at RAF Brize Norton in Oxfordshire was built to service A400M and C17 military transport aircraft.

Architect: AWW Architects
Structural engineer: Arup
Steelwork contractor: Billington Structures Ltd
Main contractor: Balfour Beatty
Client: Defence Infrastructure Organisation
In addition to housing three aircraft in hangars equipped with overhead cranes, the building contains specialist workshops together with parts stores, offices, welfare and mission planning functions.

The design and build was heavily constrained by the demands of the airbase, in particular the need to avoid interference with radar and aircraft guidance systems, clearances around runways and taxiways, and the operational requirements of the aircraft

“Structural steel was chosen for its versatility and sustainability: it is the only practical solution for a building of this type,” explains AWW Architects Associate Ian Hunt.

In section, the shape of the building follows the shape of the aircraft. Space is allowed above the aircraft for craneage and maintenance access, and in essence the hangar section consists of a high section located over the tail of the aircraft and a lower section over the fuselage.

In the fourth quadrant of the building, where there are stores and workshops, the roof is brought down lower; this creates an interesting sweeping roof shape which is also reflected in the roof of the office accommodation beside the hangars.

The building is approximately 27m-high, 143m-long × 146m-wide and is located on a military air base on the edge of the Cotswolds countryside. Project architect AWW has incorporated a number of design initiatives in order to minimise the visual impact of the building.

The shape of the building has been softened by incorporating sweeping curves into the design where possible. This has the two main benefits of reducing the volume of the building by lowering it in the centre, where height is not necessary, and softening the shape of the building by avoiding a more aggressive shape which would result if the building was rectangular.

The curves give a more natural shape that fits in better within the context of the landscape.

The colours of the wall cladding of the building are a light metallic blue. It was chosen as it is a very natural colour, reflecting both the sky and the fact that landscapes in the distance tend towards the blue end of the spectrum.

Where necessary to control radar reflection off the building, there is an additional layer of profiled steel cladding on the building’s walls, which also helps to further soften the top edge.

“This is a functional building built to a very tight budget and the nature of its purpose means that there was very little scope for flexibility: the height and position of the building was determined by strict requirements for the aircraft and the airbase.

“Hangars generally are not known for their design qualities: what makes this building special is its pleasing and successful appearance and the way it fits well into its countryside context,” says Mr Hunt.

Summing up, the judges say the design and construction were heavily constrained by the operational demands of the airbase. Satisfying the constraints and the client was a noteworthy success for large steelwork.

Photos: ©Balfour Beatty

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