Biggin Hill Memorial Museum is a new cultural building designed by Robin Lee Architecture at the former Royal Air Force station Biggin Hill.
Located in the immediate environs of the Grade II-listed St George’s Chapel of Remembrance, Biggin Hill Memorial Museum tells the story of Britain’s most famous fighter station, in particular its role during the Battle of Britain in the Second World War. Furthermore, it will ensure a sustainable future for the Chapel, which was built at Winston Churchill’s behest in 1951.
The new museum building has been designed to frame the Chapel in the manner of a garden wall or cloister. It sits low in the landscape in deference to the Chapel, which rises up centrally within the site. In counterpoint to the characterful and picturesque silhouette of the Chapel, the new building is of a constant height, establishing a clear datum against which the form and character of the Chapel can be read. The arrangement creates a quiet and contemplative inner courtyard space where a consecrated memorial garden serves as a reverential focus.
The design of St George’s Chapel of Remembrance itself was derived from a rudimentary shed built on the site during WWII, which was subsequently destroyed by fire. The Chapel evokes the modest, low-pitched structure of its predecessor; its basic form was complemented with an asymmetrically-placed bell tower and annexes positioned to form a cruciform plan with an arrangement of pitched and flat roofs. Cumulatively these elements combine to create a modestly expressive identity with a silhouette animated with a play of pitched roofs and tall bell tower. Robin Lee Architecture considered this essential character as being of prime importance, and the strategy of adding new structures and removing other, non-original structures was developed with the intention to establish a meaningful order and balance to the ensemble of buildings and spaces.
Solid brick exterior walls are treated with flush lime mortar capped with large blocks of precast concrete. This arrangement combines to express strength, stability, protection and silence - attributes that reflect the stature of the museum as a place dedicated to memory and memorial.
Externally, the building is constructed of pale Flemish bonded brick, which gives the envelope a subtly textured surface counterpointed with crisp bronze detailing for windows, vents, door assemblies and ironmongery. High-quality precast concrete copings and lintels reference the utilitarian structures from the first half of the 20th century associated with Biggin Hill airfield.
The interior spaces are lined in pale timber panels with an exposed gridded structural ceiling throughout to unify the internal environment and create a calm, homogenous experience as a backdrop to the compelling stories told through the exhibition displays.
The handmade bricks, carefully crafted detailing and the museum’s proportions all draw on aspects of the Chapel design to enable it to sit quietly around the Chapel, a contemporary building complementing an historic one.
A future phase includes a learning centre and memorial wall.