IWM Duxford’s American Air Museum to undergo overhaul

The museum has appointed Redman Design to reimagine the exhibition space for the museum, focusing on making it “less technical” and “more human”.

Outside view of American Air Museum, IWM Duxford
Outside view of American Air Museum, IWM Duxford

IWM Duxford’s American Air Museum (AAM) is undergoing an overhaul to make it “more attractive to a wider audience”, says John Redman, partner at Redman Design, the consultancy undertaking the project.

The museum, built in 1996, showcases a collection of American military aircrafts used in World War Two, and aims to serve as a memorial to the US airmen and women who died when serving from the UK in that period. It also presents aircrafts from other wars.

The year-long project, which begun in March, will see the updated space divided into three chronological periods – the World Wars, the Cold War and the Modern War.

Bringing a “more human side” to the display

The reinterpretation aims to humanise the exhibition, says Bryn Redman, partner at Redman Design.

“Obviously the airframes remain key objects,” he says. “But the re-display seeks to bring a more human side to the interpretation through personal experiences.”

The consultancy aims to do this through audio-visual elements, war photography, and personal objects that belonged to individuals, such as uniform, diaries and letters. It also wants to update the language used around the museum to make it less “technical”.

“It’s not so much a new exhibition space,” says John. “It’s a case of upgrading the interpretation of the collection. The IWM has found there is a niche audience of enthusiasts for this kind of thing – for example, it has not been very appealing to women because there’s so much focus on the technical aspects of the collection rather than people.”

Rehanging the aircraft

The collections will be organised into multiple exhibit stands, which will look visually similar but will have different content. “They will be dotted around the big, open space, each one like a mini exhibition,” says John. “We want people to still enjoy the airframes as pieces of technology and design, and don’t want to clutter up the museum with lots of new structures.”

The suspended aircraft, which have been temporarily removed for safety checks and cleaning and placed elsewhere in IWM Duxford, will be redistributed and rehung around the new space.

“We want to make the museum more attractive to a wider population without alienating airmen themselves,” John says. “There are fewer and fewer as time passes, and themselves and their families are an important audience.”

Moving the AAM online

Accompanying the updated exhibition space is a new online presence for the AAM. The website allows people to submit their own personal war stories, which will be “woven into the upgraded displays”, says John.

It also shows images from the Roger Freeman Collection – a teenager in the 1940s who used to take photos of airmen at the American airbase in Duxford – which will also be incorporated into the museum space.

“It’s not so much about great photographs, but more that they’re a record of life,” says John. “Because of the passage of time, some have no information to go alongside them. Part of this project is about trying to find out more, and digitalising it through the AAM website so that information will be available eventually.”

Redman Design is currently building a prototype of the new design, while IWM is seeking another consultancy to help create the exhibit stands for the museum. The museum is set to reopen in spring 2016.

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