The design and construction of the new Exhibition and Visitor Centre for the historic Battle of Britain bunker was a rare opportunity to build a venue designed to enhance the experience of a significant historical site in a heavily built up residential area. The visitor centre is designed to sustain the ongoing viability of the bunker as a heritage asset, and to make a significant contribution to the RAF’s public engagement goals.
The new 2,000m2 facility is set across two levels and is located next to the original bunker site in Uxbridge. With a clean, modern look and sleek, juxtaposed lines, the building’s aesthetics have been designed to reflect the motion and dynamics of flight. The centre’s dark façade against the treeline and sky also creates a ‘stealth-like’ appearance, attracting attention during the day but subtlety blending with the landscape in the evening.
The Bunker was the HQ for No.11 (Fighter) Group, which co-ordinated the air defence during the Battle of Britain, for London and south east England. It was visited by Winston Churchill on several occasions and after watching the RAF at work in the bunker he uttered the now immortal words "never in the field of human conflict was so much owed, by so many to so few”.
Construction of the visitor centre began in summer 2016 and was handed over to Hillingdon Council in November 2017. An exhibition fitout period followed, with official opening to the public in March 2018. The visitor centre is 2,000m2 across two floors, with the main exhibition hall in excess of 500m2. Additionally, there is a 95 seat lecture theatre, library, workshops, offices and café/gift shop. The construction value was £4.9m, at £2450/m2.
The vision of the project was to secure the future of the Bunker and to ensure that the history is available to more visitors. Prior to the opening of the Visitors Centre, yearly visitor numbers to the bunker were 8,000. In the first ten months of opening, the Visitors Centre has already welcomed 24,000 visitors.