In June 2017, Midland Alloy completed 11 sets of large-format aluminium gates for the Victoria and Albert Museum in London.
The prestigious project was part of a larger £54.5 million scheme to provide an alternative entrance to the museum, as well as extra gallery space and a courtyard.
The scheme was run by award-winning architect Amanda Levete and her firm AL_A, and was opened on 29th June 2017 by The Duchess of Cambridge.
The design of the Aston Webb Screen gates by the V&A and AL_A innovatively marries modern design with the historic characteristics of the Grade-1 Listed building.
Each set of smaller side gates feature a unique hole pattern that include impressions of the original shrapnel damage from bombs that landed nearby during World War 2.
Furthermore, the large central gates, standing at 4.4m tall and weighing over half a tonne each, cleverly feature an impression of the Royal Crest that previously sat above the central gate.
The manufacturing process by Midland Alloy was extensive and took many months. Each side gate started life as a single aluminium plate, supplied by Alcoa in Italy, that was then skimmed on each side to remove excess oxide and ensure uniformity.
Each of the larger central gates comprises two aluminum plates that were machined separately and then fitted together using an invisible lap joint. Our largest 5-axis CNC machine, with a machining envelope of 5m x 3m x 1m, allowed us to accomplish this.
A total of 72,000 holes were machined into the 11 sets of aluminium plates. Each hole required 5 operations: spotting, boring, interpolating, fine-boring and chamfering, with nearly two thirds of the metal being removed from the plates. This excess metal was then recycled.
After machining the holes, a number of fine-surface finishing operations were carried out. Overall, nearly half a million operations were required to get all of the gates in a state ready for finishing.
After inspecting the gates back to the original CAD data, the gates were satin linished and then sent to United Anodisers in Huddersfield to be natural anodised (exterior grade AA25). The goal was to achieve the best aesthetic finish from a structural alloy, with the added challenge of accomplishing this on such large cosmetic items.
As a result of a number of prototype runs, and with the addition of the fine-boring and fine-surface finishing operations, an exceptional finish was achieved. The finish gives the gates a beautiful 3D aspect and enables the holes to glow.
Once returned to Midland Alloy, specially-designed hinges and floor pivots supplied by Woodwood Group Door Controls were fitted to each of the gates, which maintain a minimal aesthetic while providing the required strength to support the gates in position. The gates were then packed in custom packaging and delivered safely to the V&A.
As a result of thorough planning and meticulous collaboration between Midland Alloy, our customers and subcontract suppliers, we were able to avoid any errors and complete the project on-time.
Techniques such as using the same CAD format, in this case Rhino3D, enabled smoother collaboration over the technical aspects of the gates throughout the project. We also used the latest machine verification software to ensure there weren’t any costly machine crashes and setbacks during manufacture.
Finally, we worked closely with the on-site engineers to allow the gates to be fitted with ease and be ready for the official opening soon after.
A wonderful museum, an exceptional design feat and an exemplar architectural project—we look forward to seeing its impact on the V&A for many years to come.
We would like to take this opportunity to thank everyone involved in this prestigious project: the V&A, AL_A, Wates, Arup, Alcoa, United Anodisers and Woodwood Group Door Controls.