British Film Institute Master Film Archive

British Film Institute Master Film Archive

Cullinan Studio
Gaydon, United Kingdom
Project Year
Cultural Centres
Edmund Sumner

Preserving a nation's film achive - contractor's perspective on the British Film Institute Master Film Archive

Gilbert-Ash as Contractors

Project outline

Hidden away in the Warwickshire countryside just outside the village of Gaydon is the Master Film Archive for the British Film Institute. Gilbert-Ash was appointed as Design & Build Contractor on this highly prestigious project. The 3000m2 building sits in a secluded clearing on a disused Ministry of Defence bunker that once stored nuclear warheads. The Master Film Archive stores old film reels made of acetate and nitrate which are highly flammable. The films are of great historical value and it was therefore vital that any building made to store the film be of the most exacting standards to make sure that this important resource could be maintained for future generations.

Awards • BREEAM Excellent • ‘Sustain’ Magazine Award for Design & Architecture (2013) • BCI Awards Building Project of the Year (£3m to £50m) - Highly Commended (2012) • RIBA Award and Regional Building of the Year (2012) • AIA UK Excellence in Design Award Commendation (2012) • Building Awards Project of the Year Finalist (2012) • RICS Awards - Design & Innovation Award Finalist (2012)

Project features & challenges • Nitrate film is one of the most flammable materials that exists and once alight is virtually impossible to extinguish • Extremely demanding air tightness requirements to achieve 0.3m3/hr/m2@ 50Pa (normal building regulations require 10m3/hr/m2@50Pa) • Strict constant temperature requirements to achieve (-5oC) • Specific Relative Humidity requirements of 35% to adhere to

Contractor’s perspective

Whilst the finished building gives the appearance of a simple building to erect, the reality of producing a highly serviced building to extremely high standards were very complex and demanding for all involved.

We had strict air tightness requirements to achieve 0.3m3/hr/m2@ 50Pa (normal building regulations require 10m3/hr/m2@50Pa). The plant installation had to maintain the internal building conditions at a constant -5oC and 35% relative humidity. A thermographic survey also had to be carried out to highlight any potential areas of weakness or cold bridging.

Film preservation is a hazardous business as nitrate film is one of the most flammable materials that exists and if it catches fire, it is almost impossible to extinguish. With this in mind the overriding principle throughout the design was the containing rather than the extinguishing of any potential fires. The building now houses the nitrate cells in two rows of fifteen along the sides, with the less volatile acetate film stored in larger rooms in the middle. To prevent the transmission of fire between the cells it has precast twin walls and heavy hydrocarbon doors.

The building includes four industrial chillers, four dehumidification units and 12 air handling units delivering the optimum internal condition of -5oC at 35% relative humidity required to store the film and prevent its deterioration.

This was a highly complex project but one that the Gilbert-Ash team was proud to be involved with”.

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