Black Country Living by Napier Clarke Architects



The new building is conceived as a contemporary reflection of the built heritage of the region and draws upon the forms and materials of the museum’s historic buildings, while presenting a modern addition to the ensemble. It is arranged as a series of staggered black vaulted roofs, reducing in footprint from west to east to give relief and space towards the neighbouring buildings, and set upon a brick plinth to give elevated views across the museum estate.

The Black Country is famous for its ironworking foundries and steel industry and so we wanted to reflect this in our architectural response. We introduced a triangulated steel portal frame that is demountable and can be re-used. We introduced self-finished materials, where possible, to reduce the amount of layers and carbon emissions. We used FSC plywood and FSC natural wood fibre acoustic panels on the soffits, and a UK brick for internal and external walls, choosing darks selected for the gritty, industrial look we were after. The staircase and lower ground floor soffits are exposed precast concrete. In addition, we specified black, noncombustible VIEO standing seam cladding internally and externally to continue the industrial feel of the building. The large rooflights and north-facing glazing were introduced to maximise daylighting and minimise the need for artificial lighting.

The Black Country Living Museum is an open-air museum telling the story of one of the first industrialised landscapes in Britain. Alongside the museum’s historical industrial buildings and landscapes, our new visitor centre forms part of a major redevelopment and expansion project.

PPC frame, RAL 70

Precast concrete
Langley concrete
Exposed concrete
Stair and floor panels

Cladding and roofing
VIEO, PPC RAL 7021 externally
RAL 9006 internally
External envelope and internal walls

Steven Clarke, director, Napier Clarke Architects


Architect’s choices


Project data

The project is the result of an international design competition that we won in 2017 and has remained faithful to our vision of a building that would take visual cues from the gritty industrial character of the Black Country.

Start on site December 2020
September 2022
Gross internal floor area
Construction cost £7.36 million
(including car park and external works)
Construction cost per m2 £3,300
Architect Napier Clarke Architects
Client Black Country Living Musueum
Structural engineer Donald McIntyre Design (stages 2, 3 and 4A), HSP Consulting Engineers (stages 4 and 5)
M&E consultant BWB consulting (stages 2, 3 and 4), KGF Cox Consulting Engineers (stage 5)
QS MDA Consulting
Project manager MDA Consulting
Principal designer Napier Clarke Architects
Approved building inspector
Dudley Metropolitan Borough Council
Landscape architect Redkite Network
Employer’s agent MDA Consulting
Fire consultant IFC Group
Accoustic consultant BWB Consulting
Air test consultant Stroma
Transport consultant BWB Consulting
Main contractor Balfour Beatty
CAD software used ArchiCAD
Annual CO2 emissions 40.05 kgCO2/m2 (predicted), 35.07 kgCO2/m2 (actual)
Predicted design life
50 years

Floor tiles
Selected darks
External and internal floors


The centre is the key element of a reconfigured entrance sequence to enhance the experience for visitors – who can number up to 5,000 a day. The centre processes ticket sales, offers a brief introduction to the history of the Black Country and the museum itself and provides retail, café, office, exhibition and toilet facilities. The museum’s previous entrance building has been repurposed as a learning centre.

Steven Clarke, director, Napier Clarke Architects

Selected products

Windows and doors
Variations of Kawneer 70 system PPC
RAL 7021
Windows and doors

PPC aluminium, RAL 7021

The building is predominantly passive in terms of energy, with natural ventilation, large overhangs for shading, air source heat pumps supporting underfloor heating and it is powered by electric only. The thermal mass of the precast concrete floors and stair and brick walls helps to moderate internal temperatures. Use of plasterboard was minimised to reduce the amount of cut waste and self-finished materials were used where possible.

Architectural metalwork
AMI Sheffield
Steel, PPC RAL 9006 internally,
RAL 7021 externally

Timber and acoustic soffits
Troldtekt timber and plywood supplied by installer Brightens Plastering
Plywood; natural wood fibre for acoustic panels

In the café space, where visitors can enjoy elevated views, we used a triangulated steel frame with a cantilever – a simple structure that houses a series of flexible spaces within. The frame is fully expressed in the bright, vaulted admissions and entrance hall, lit from above by large rooflights set within plywood and natural wood fibre acoustic panels. Curtain glazing admits further daylight and provides views out. In contrast, the lower ground floor exhibition space is intentionally darker, with dark brick walls and dark steels supporting precast concrete panels and grey acoustic panels, evoking an industrial feel as visitors move towards the museum.

Freshfield Lane, by Michelmersh
Selected darks
External and internal walls

Steven Clarke, director, Napier Clarke Architects

Steel frame
Reynolds and Litchfield
Bespoke painted, RAL 9007
Structural frame