The BFI National Archive is a department of the British Film Institute, and one of the largest film archives in the world.
The BFI National Archive collects, preserves, restores and then shares the films and television programmes which have helped to shape and record British life and times since cinema was invented in the late 19th century.
The majority of the collection is British material, but it also features internationally significant holdings from around the world. The Archive also collects films which feature key British actors and the work of British directors.
The collections themselves are accommodated on several sites. The J. Paul Getty, Jr. Conservation Centre in Berkhamsted, Hertfordshire, named after its benefactor, is the base for much of the work, while approximately 140 million feet of flammable nitrate film and all the master film collection held on acetate or other media is kept separately at the BFI Master Film Store at Gaydon in Warwickshire.
The 3,000 sq m fire-resistant store at Gaydon, consisting of six large acetate film stores and 30 smaller nitrate stores, was opened in January 2012 at a cost of £12m. The environmentally sustainable state-of-the-art building has been built on a disused military installation and uses green technologies to keep the films at a temperature of -5oC and 35% relative humidity, the optimum conditions for preserving films which could deteriorate if not kept in the right storage conditions.
Given the high combustible nature of nitrate, the building has been designed and constructed in such a way, that the chances of a fire starting in any of the cells is almost impossible. Despite this, the building is protected by a number of advanced fire protection measures, including a nitrogen-argon gas fire suppression system, thick steel doors and dampers that close openings within 3 seconds of a fire alert and the use of pressure relief panels, which form the end walls of each nitrate cell and open automatically if the temperature in a cell reaches 72oC, or if the pressure reaches 2.5 kN.
Once the construction of the building was complete, it was planned to move a total of 330,000 cans of nitrate and acetate master film material from Berkhamsted to Gaydon. The store has capacity for 458,000 cans.
To accommodate the film archive, Link 51 was appointed to design and install a mass storage solution. Working in conjunction with building contractors, Gilbert-Ash and architects, Edward Cullinan, Link 51’s priority was to install shelving that could provide a maintenance-free system for collections management in a sub-zero climate — an environment where employees, wearing cold weather gear and carrying a lone worker alarm, are restricted to only 45 minutes’ exposure in the archive itself.
- To provide easy access and retrieval, Link 51 based their solution largely on the use of Mobile Stormor Shelving units for all the 36 cells, with each mobile unit featuring wire mesh front panels to ensure an even flow of cooling throughout the shelving. The mobiles run on fitted tracks and are operated by mechanically-assisted, tri-spoked handwheels, which incorporate aisle-locking mechanisms for user safety. Static Stormor Shelving was also installed in the smaller 30 nitrate cells to make best use of available space.
- The shelving was designed and manufactured to exact specifications to accommodate the width of the film cans, with the higher shelves coloured red to remind employees to use picking equipment.
- As part of the building’s considerable fire prevention measures, all the static shelving installed in the nitrate cells was fixed away from the walls as an added precaution in the event of fire and subsequent heat transfer between cells. The shelving also incorporates wire mesh panels to the rear to keep the barcoded film cans secure and away from the pre-cast concrete walls.
- Once the installation was complete, Link 51 had installed 27km/17 miles of shelving to accommodate the archive, whilst providing extra capacity.
By using Link 51, the British Film Institute benefited from:
- UK-based in-house manufacturing capability
- Fully managed market-leading storage solutions
- Extensive knowledge and experience
- High-quality product range combining strength, durability and operational reliability
“Link 51’s approach throughout was both efficient and professional. The project team worked well alongside our architects and building contractors in providing the best possible solution to meet our requirements.”
Ron Martin, Head of Collections Management – British Film Institute
For more information on any of the products specified for the BFI Master Film Store please call us on 0800 169 5151.