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Ralph Appelbaum Associates partners with Imperial War Museums

New Second World War Galleries tell the story of a global conflict

RAA IWM Second World War

Ralph Appelbaum Associates (RAA), a multidisciplinary firm specialising in the planning and design of museums, exhibits, educational environments and visitor attractions, has worked with London’s Imperial War Museum (IWM) on the design of its new Second World War Galleries.

The two new galleries, which have been five years in the making, will open to the public on 20 October. RAA has designed and developed the Second World War Galleries in parallel with IWM’s new Holocaust Galleries, to make sure that the connection between the events of the Holocaust and the wider course of the War is made clear.

Telling the story of a global event

This project makes IWM London the first museum in the world to have both Second World War and Holocaust Galleries.

The Second World War Galleries will build on previous displays at the museum and show the global nature of WWII, as well as its lasting impact. The Galleries feature over 1500 items and personal stories from more than 80 countries, bringing together stories and voices not heard before, in order to help guests understand this complex and formative conflict in greater detail.

Visitors will be able to see well-known artefacts alongside material being shown for the first time, using a range of modern display techniques to tell the story of WWII, in order to engage a new generation of museum guests. New acquisitions from China, the US, Japan and from across the former Empire help to provide a truly global narrative as well as communicating the British experience.

Highlights such as a deconstructed 1940’s house showing the impact of the Blitz help visitors to develop a deeper connection with the content.

RAA’s design approach

There are six galleries in a roughly chronological sequence, starting in 1930 and ending after the war in 1949. These answer questions such as:

  • How did the Second World War begin?
  • How did war Spread across Europe?
  • What did war mean for Britain?
  • How did the war turn global?
  • How was the war won and lost?
  • How did the war change the world?  

RAA’s design has shaped the Galleries in a way that gives the greatest meaning to storylines and collections:  

  • Reinforcing the presence of people acknowledges that the diversity of individual experience is vital to any understanding of what happened. People feature prominently across the Galleries, in large groups and as individuals linked to specific stories.  
  • A distinct sequence of spaces means each gallery has a different design inspiration, and consequently, look and feel, creating marked thresholds between different kinds of experiences.
  • Maximising sight-lines through the Galleries reinforces the idea that the Second World War is a continuous narrative comprised of interdependent and intersecting events, people and ideas. This connected visitor journey allows time to unfold in a linear manner, while letting themes connect and cross over.  
  • A black box approach within the exhibition provides maximum flexibility for collections displays and AV installations, and ensures that exhibits are the focus for visitors.
  • An overhead media display of the Battle of Britain and the Blitz blends moments of intense action, such as a bombing raid, with calm skies. An accompanying soundscape brings the whole installation to life.
  • Dramatic images drawn from Imperial War Museums’ archives will bring key events of the Second World War to life.  

Helping audiences to truly understand WWII

Kate Clements is a curator for the Second World War Galleries at IWM. She says: “With our dynamic new Second World War Galleries, IWM will continue the story begun by our award-winning First World War Galleries and explain why, only two decades later, the world was facing a second global conflict.

“Our mission to help our audiences to truly understand this conflict, which shaped the world we live in today, is made all the more pressing by the fact that the Second World War will soon pass out of living memory, leaving us without the first-hand testimony of its veterans, eyewitnesses and survivors. These Galleries will ensure that the experiences of those generations are never forgotten.”

Second World War Gallery IWM RAA

Phillip Tefft, Director of RAA London, adds: “RAA has been honoured to work with Imperial War Museums on such a significant project and we are thrilled to see the Second World War Galleries open after over 5 years of dedicated work from our design team.

“RAA’s and IWM’s shared vision for the Galleries is to help people, as global citizens, make sense of today by having a deeper understanding of the connections between past conflict and the contemporary world. This is about exploring the way war has shaped the local and the global; about appreciating diverse views; and about challenging audiences to become ready to engage in difficult decisions for themselves, their communities and their world.”  

Patrick Swindell, Project Director, says: “The shifting and expanding scale of the conflict is represented in a sequence of distinct gallery spaces – beginning in the familiar streets of Britain; extending to the wide horizons of a global war in Russia, North Africa, South-East Asia and the Pacific.

“The design of each gallery evokes these different environments through the use of immersive media, architecturally scaled graphics, and audio-scapes. Combined, these spaces convey the sheer complexity and interdependency of global events, and ask visitors to consider their tremendous impact on societies and individuals.”  

Earlier this month, RAA also announced the completion of a project to design the University of Arizona Alfie Norville Gem and Mineral Museum.

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charlotte coates

Charlotte Coates

Charlotte Coates is blooloop's editor. She is from Brighton, UK and previously worked as a librarian. She has a strong interest in arts, culture and information and graduated from the University of Sussex with a degree in English Literature. Charlotte can usually be found either with her head in a book or planning her next travel adventure.

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