American Air Museum
Imperial War Museum Duxford
Cambridgeshire CB2 4QR
United Kingdom

Foster and Partners 1997

The American Air Museum is a self-contained gallery or hangar within the broader aviation museum that the UK's Imperial War Museum runs at Duxford, a former Royal Air Force (and United States Air Force) fighter station.

A dramatic contrast from the museum's other rather more mundane hangars, Foster's £11 million hangar for the American aircraft at the museum succeeds in meeting the client's dual requirement of a landmark building but also a neutral backdrop for the aircraft, which both crowd around the floor and hang (weighing up to 10 tons each) from steel suspension points in the concrete shell roof.

The building is a half-ellipse in plan, and rises from its narrow end, where the low entrance way is cut into a grass hill, to the tall glass curtain wall that slices off the ellipse just before its mid point. 

The form of the building was influenced by its dominant exhibit, a B-52 Stratofortress bomber, whose noses faces yours on the level as you enter the building, whose 16-meter-high tail fin requires the roof to have risen before reaching the back of the plane, and whose 61-meter wingspan spreads almost to the sides of the building. 

Another influence on the design was the museum's use of the airfield to fly its exhibits. The exhibition doesn't end within the building, and the glass wall looks out onto other exhibited aircraft using the runway outside. The glass wall is also demountable, to allow the aircraft in and out.


The detailing throughout the hangar is clean, precise and minimally expressed: highly satisfying in itself if you look for it, but more importantly a simple, attractive and non-interfering background to the aircraft on display.

On occasional flying weekends during the summer, the American Air Museum looks out onto the runway and acts as a pavilion from which to watch the crowds and the aircraft.

Simon Glynn 2002 (updated 2005)

How to visit

The American Air Museum is open to the public as part of the Imperial War Museum Duxford. The museum is on the A505 immediately to the west of the M11 motorway at exit 10, about eight miles south of Cambridge.

The museum provides comprehensive visitor information, including opening times, ticket prices and travel information, at the Duxford section of the Imperial War Museum web site:  Alternatively you may call the museum on +44 1223 835000 or email

Books and other web sites

The Duxford section of the Imperial War Museum web site at contains information about the American Air Museum building as well as about visiting the museum.

The Foster and Partners site at has a helpful description and pictures.

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