Five years of preparation, the new WWII galleries and the Holocaust galleries at the Imperial War Museums will bring together previously unseen objects and inaudible voices when they open on October 20, 2021.
IWM London’s £ 30.5million transformation project will make it the first museum in the world to house WWII and Holocaust galleries under one roof, telling the story of that period of history for a 21st century audience. The galleries extend over two floors; The WWII Galleries were designed by Ralph Appelbaum Associates (RAA), while the Holocaust Galleries were designed by Casson Mann.
Drawing heavily on the personal stories contained in the IWM collections, the new galleries will aim to show visitors the realities of WWII, the Holocaust and the resulting impact on the world.
Diane Lees, Executive Director of IWM, said: “At the center of the brutal and barbaric conflict was the state-sponsored mass murder of 6 million Jewish men, women and children. That’s why we’re putting IWM’s new Holocaust galleries at the center of the timeline of our iconic London museum and connecting them, architecturally and conceptually, to our new WWII galleries.
Here we speak to Phillip Tefft, Founding Director of Ralph Appelbaum Associates London, about this moving and emotional project.
What is the purpose of WWII galleries and why is it so important to tell this story right now?
The Imperial War Museums (IWM) and Ralph Appelbaum Associates (RAA) shared vision for WWII Galleries is to help people, as citizens of the world, understand today by having a deeper understanding of the links between past conflicts and the contemporary world. world. It is about exploring how war has shaped the local and the global; on the appreciation of various points of view; and on the challenge of audiences to prepare to engage in difficult decisions for themselves, their communities and their world.
While this conflict will soon fade from living memory, leaving us without the first-hand testimony of its veterans, eyewitnesses and survivors, these new monumental galleries will help ensure that the experiences of these generations are never forgotten. This has been one of the Museum group’s most ambitious projects to date, and together with the Imperial War Museums, we can’t wait to share the fascinating stories these galleries will tell.
How did you approach this project?
From the start of the development of the galleries, it was important for us to focus on the balance between telling strong, often personal stories, with the challenge of evoking the place in the gallery space. We worked closely with and listened to the IWM team, ensuring that our design and planning adhered to and reflected their narrative and design principles consistently throughout our collaboration.
RAA used design and media to contextualize the stories told in the six galleries of the exhibition. We wanted to give IWM the freedom to tell their stories the way they wanted, while also looking for a design solution that made it easier for visitors to navigate the gallery spaces.
Early in the planning, our design team considered a wide range of storytelling devices in storytelling environments, drawing inspiration from different industries such as the latest set design techniques used in the world of theater and set design.
We also drew on the successes of earlier exhibition design and planning projects that addressed other important historical narratives throughout the twentieth century. The exhibition “World War I in the Air” that RAA designed for the RAF Museum in London is an example of how the subject of battle in the air has been opened up to a wider audience through stories of moving people, dramatic exhibitions and a graphic system making technical information accessible to all.
How would you sum up your philosophy on exhibition design?
RAA’s design philosophy focuses on connecting our clients’ content and messages to the needs and desires of contemporary audiences. We believe that an evocative and compelling interpretation in exhibition design has the power to transport visitors to another place and time, while deepening understanding of relevant issues.
We always work in harmony with our clients, taking their needs into account carefully to ensure we have a comprehensive understanding of the purpose and aspirations of each project. Exploring opportunities and testing ideas together with clients and their communities helps us find design solutions that create powerful, memorable or impactful impressions on audiences.
Our design work is shaped by seeking the most emotionally engaging experiences and stories, drawing inspiration from highly personalized collections and narratives. Where appropriate, we have increasingly incorporated advanced media and immersion technologies to enhance and contextualize narratives in our designs.
How important is it to create an emotional connection with visitors to WWII galleries?
We believe in the importance of emotionally connecting with visitors. For the public visiting WWII galleries, the use of personal stories of ordinary people living in war helps visitors connect emotionally with the content. Immersive media such as the AV Battle of Britain above gallery 3: “What has the war meant for Britain? Will give visitors the impression of being at the heart of the action in London, a city now attacked by the night sky.
How do the new Galleries tell the global story of WWII?
In addition to telling the global story of WWII, the galleries aim to engage a new generation of museum visitors in this complex and formative period of history. The galleries incorporate well-known and familiar collections as well as documents exhibited for the first time by the Imperial War Museums.
The word “collections” encompasses more than just physical objects. A variety of assets, including visual material like photographs and media from the vast archives of the Imperial War Museums, will be on display alongside major collections, such as airplanes and weapons.
The museum’s image and film archives are tapped and used throughout the exhibition experience, mounted in narrative film installations that are essential in helping the visitor understand the stories from multiple global perspectives.
The globally significant artifacts in Gallery 4: How Did the War Become Global ?, include a piece of the SS Arizona that was bombed at Pearl Harbor. In Gallery 5: How was the war won and lost ?, a stack of glass bowls found in Hiroshima are on display, fused by heat in the wake of the devastating atomic bombardments.
Can you choose some of the main display techniques used to tell the story of WWII?
The main display techniques include the use of AV media. It is perhaps the most powerful in the expansive mainstream media telling the story of the Battle of Britain. The enormous scale gives visitors a different perspective of the war above their heads, allowing them to see and hear the sky day and night.
Ambient projections of landscapes spread over large areas in the exhibition, evoking distant places where battles took place. Images of wind gently crossing blades of grass in distant fields are placed behind the objects in display cases, helping to put them in the context of the place.
Remarkably, much of the footage used was captured during shutdowns with local film crews continuing filming on three different continents.
What was the biggest challenge of this project?
One of the main challenges of the project was its length. The development of the Galleries took place over more than five years. Our team has worked hard to maintain continuity and design consistency as well as narrative consistency, over this long period of time.
The COVID-19 pandemic brought the unexpected challenge of working remotely in the later stages of the project. Checking the display case layout, internal decors, and ordering of materials were all more complicated tasks to coordinate during a pandemic, but with the museum, RAA rose to the challenge of creating a new exhibit under unusual circumstances.
“The Imperial War Museum building itself presented structural and technical challenges; the renovation of its existing gallery spaces to accommodate the new exhibitions brought surprising discoveries that needed to be addressed by specialist teams and collaborative problem solving.
A final challenge was to tell a human story through inanimate objects. We brought the Imperial War Museums’ vast collection of artefacts to life – connecting collections to stories through bold design moves through the gallery’s series of spaces.
Did you find this emotional project to work on?
Learn about the emotionally connected everyday people who experienced world war on an unprecedented scale. Hearing the large number of personal stories of loss and devastation resulting from tragic events was incredibly moving. At the same time, it might be edifying to hear stories of human resilience in the face of adversity. Visitors will learn how people coped with the extreme conditions the war inflicted on them.
How do WWII galleries relate to Holocaust galleries? How closely did you work with the designers of The Holocaust Galleries?
IWM and RAA developed the WWII Galleries in parallel with the new IWM Holocaust Galleries, ensuring that the vital link between the events of the Holocaust and the broader course of the war is fully understood. The two separate exhibitions physically touch each other in Gallery 5: “How was the war won and lost?” , Where visitors’ eyes are drawn up to gaze at a V1 flying bomb. Made by slave laborers in Nazi-run concentration camps and intended to devastate Britain’s home front, it hangs dramatically in the opening where the Holocaust galleries are located.
What’s next for Ralph Applebaum Associates?
■ The John Randle Center for Yoruba Culture and History in Lagos, Nigeria, opens in spring 2022
■ The next successful exhibition at the British Museum, opens in spring 2022
■ A new tourist attraction at Battersea Power Station, London, opens in summer 2022
■ The Intelligence Factory, a new permanent exhibition opening in Bletchley Park, UK, opens in spring 2022