A radical approach was needed to reach the right solution for the BFI Master Film Store. The collection is huge: 268,380 cans of acetate film, much of it at risk from ‘vinegar syndrome’, and 190,080 cans of nitrate film with a very low ignition temperature and fast burning rate.
Rigorous analysis, detailing and quality control were carried out to ensure the sub-zero temperature, low humidity and fire prevention required for the film’s preservation.
Although the building form is quite simple – 30 identical vaults for nitrate film and six vaults for acetate film – the specification required an extremely low air leakage rate to maximise performance. It also has to withstand intense heat in the unlikely event of a nitrate film fire.
The Master Film Store surpasses anything that has gone before in archive design. Airtightness test results were 97 per cent better than even an exemplar low energy building; and the analysis of how a nitrate fire would behave, and how the building could be constructed to prevent the spread of fire, broke new ground.
The vaults keep the film at -5°C and at 35 per cent relative humidity. The fabric and services enable this environment to be maintained in an energy efficient way.
The building performs its function in an elegantly composed structure. The long elevations are articulated with large stainless steel over-pressure panels and concrete fire shrouds to the 30 cells for nitrate film. The stainless steel panels open in the unlikely event of fire to allow a clean burn and the pre-cast shrouds prevent heat spreading to adjacent cells.
The front and rear of the building house plant rooms, offices and workshops that did not require such a high performing envelope. These are clad in stainless steel sinusoidal cladding, reminiscent of Warwickshire’s agricultural buildings.