Black Country Living Museum

Visitor centre evokes industrial heritage

Project details


Dudley, West Midlands


Master plan and visitor centre


Black Country Living Museum





Won through open international competition in 2017, the Black Country Living Museum visitor centre is Napier Clarke’s first major public project. The building acts a gateway to the £30 million reimagination and densification of the museum’s site. It helps extend the cultural site’s narrative from the dawn of the industrial revolution to the post-war consumerism and concrete brutalism of the 1960s when the museum first opened.


The visitor centre is a new hub at the entrance to the museum, located on the vintage tram turning circle at the upper end of the site. The building is designed to welcome visitors and encourage them to understand and explore the collections that stretch from the building down the valley to the historic mine shafts and canal arm at the bottom.

The visitor centre’s design is structured as three contemporary, staggered black roofs. Open at both ends, the building is a play on the local vernacular and industrial heritage found within the open-air museum and across the Black Country. The standing seam zinc envelope and repeated gables evoke the tin sheds and workshop scale in which the region’s coalmining, glass, brick, iron and steel-making began.

The visitor centre comprises three joined and staggered zinc-clad volumes with glazing at both ends

Gift shop in Black Country Living Museum visitor centre with plywood ceilings and exposed steel structure.

Café seating area in one of the vaulted ceiling volumes with a fully glazed view onto the wooded landscape.

Once inside, the vaulted roofs open into a connected space arranged as a reception atrium, shop and restaurant, while incorporating all other visitor facilities. The design uses a refined triangulated steel structure, again recalling the area’s heritage. Timber infill panels and aluminium wall finishes create a calm uplifting interior that is also renewable, recyclable or reusable. Materials are self-finishing to minimise waste. The building has been carefully designed to be naturally ventilated through automatic operable windows and its striking external windcatcher chimneys that pull and circulate the air. These support the air source heat pump underfloor heating system and a fully electric, zero-fossil fuel, super-insulated, high-performance building.

“Black Country Visitors Centre in Dudley evokes industrial heritage.”

Isabelle Priest, RIBA Journal

Entrance reception atrium of the new visitor centre with pared back design of aluminium wall cladding, a plywood vaulted ceiling, exposed steel structure and tiled floors.

“I’m excited for the school children for whom the building helps give a sense of value and possibility.”

Isabelle Priest, RIBA Journal

Rear elevation of the Black Country Living Museum visitor centre lit up at dusk, glowing yellow through large expanses of glazing.

The cantilevered deck to the rear becomes a platform for visitors to enjoy unobstructed views over the wooded valley and museum’s exhibits. Meanwhile, the lower level is dug into the sloping topography of the site. The textures intentionally change externally and internally to create a different atmosphere from lightweight steel and timber to chunkier, smoky dark brick. These bed the building into the site, reducing its scale and footprint as well as help to mediate the building’s temperature. A large internal space on the lower ground floor can be used flexibly – for the ticketing, exhibitions and cultural programming. From there visitors then burst out into the reconstructed and expanded museum landscape.

View up the stair from the lower ground floor showing the steel and plywood apex ceiling.

‘This is the single largest development in the Black Country Living Museum’s history. Napier Clarke Architects assembled a team and proposal that skilfully responded to the brief, with the right balance of originality, workability and visual impact. As a client, I was involved and supported. The approach saw our vision realised, and more. It was no mean feat – “bostin” as we say in the West Midlands.’

Andrew Lovett OBE, chief executive, Black Country Living Museum

Press and awards

2024 RIBA Regional Award, West Midlands

2024 Civic Trust Awards – Winner – Highly commended

2023 AJ Awards, Civic building – Shortlist

2023 Brick Awards, Public Building – Winner

Reviewed in the RIBA Journal


Case study: Black Country Living by Napier Clarke Architects (

One of the three zinc columes of the visitor centre cantilevering into the surrounding woodland landscape.


Site plan

Site plan of the Black Country Living Museum showing the three connected volumes of the visitor centre.

Ground and lower ground floor plan

Ground floor plan showing three connected buildings.Lower ground floor plan.


Side and rear elevations.


Design Team

Quantity Surveyor – MDA consulting

Structural Engineer (RIBA stages 2-4) – Donald McIntyre Design

Landscape Architect – Redkite Network

Services and Sustainability Consultant – BWB consulting

Employers Agent – MDA consulting

Structural Engineer (RIBA stages 5-6) – HSP Consulting Engineers

Air Tightness Consultant – Stroma Consultant

Fire Consultant – IFC Group

Visualisation – Napier Clarke

Contractor Team

Main Contractor- Balfour Beatty

Mechanical and Building Services – Steane

Cladding and Roofing – RLW roofing

Windows and Doors – APiC UK

Steel Frame – Reynolds and Litchfield

Timber and Acoustics soffits – Broughton’s Plastering Contractors

Rooflights – Velux Commercial

Precast concrete stair and precast panels – Longley Concrete

Retail furniture - ARJ CRE8 Ltd

Architectural Metalwork – AMI Sheffield


Lorenzo Zandri


Click Click - Jim Stephenson