The British Film Institute preserves one of the largest and most significant moving image collections in the world but up until last year, the collection was housed in separate sub-par buildings incapable of ensuring the films' ongoing protection. Experts advised the Institute to consolidate their acetate and nitrate film collection into a single high tech storage facility with optimal environmental conditions and a fire-proof design. The resulting building is a highly energy efficient warehouse in Warwickshire that maintains sub-zero temperatures with low humidity. Designed by a team led by Edward Cullinan Architects, the BFI Acetate & Nitrate Film Store building is an amazing example of the best in energy efficient design, preservation, fire prevention and green design.
Acetate and nitrate film require optimal conditions for their continued preservation and can easily burn if not protected properly. BFI knew they needed to store their film in better conditions, so they asked Edward Cullinan Architects to perform a feasibility study and provide recommendations. The London-based firm suggested that BFI construct new facilities to consolidate their collection rather than try and renovate one of their current facilities. The new warehouse was completed in 2011 and breaks new ground in terms of capacity, storage conditions, green construction and energy efficiency.
The resulting warehouse has a no-nonsense design and required intense research and collaboration between the architect, engineers, film experts and the BFI. The 3000 sqm warehouse stores 460,000 canisters of film at -5°C and 35% relative humidity. In order for this not to cost an arm and a leg in energy bills, the design team came up with a system that makes use of 4 industrial chillers, 4 dehumidification plants and 12 air handling units as well as heat recovery and a tight, heavily insulated and very air-tight envelope. Pre-cast concrete construction provides a very stable environment and could maintain sub-zero temps for 3 consecutive summer days even if the power went out. For the amount of air conditioning required in the warehouse, BFI’s stores use relatively low amounts of electricity and serve as an amazing example of what is possible.
Arup Fire Engineers assisted with the design so the building could withstand the burning temperatures of nitrate film and prevent the heat spreading to the rest of the collection or environmental control systems. Additionally, the building includes a living sedum blanket room system, a wildflower meadow, swales to provide a sustainable drainage system, a bat roost and a measures to protect Great Crested Newts, badgers and nesting birds during the construction activities. BFI’s film stores are expected to achieve a BREEAM ‘Excellent’ rating.
Images ©Edmund Sumner