The National Army Museum has reopened after a three-year-long £24 million revamp, with the aim of “creating a dialogue” between the public and the armed forces, and giving soldiers “a voice”.
The new museum aims to “tell the British Army’s story” and act as a “bridge” with the public through archive materials and objects, and interactive exhibits, says museum director general Janice Murray.
It looks at the army from a personal perspective, exploring the life of a soldier, and within wider context, including the army’s impact on past and contemporary culture. Particular moments in history such as the Battle of Waterloo are looked at.
The new museum has been created by architectural practice BDP, with exhibition design and interiors completed by consultancy Event.
“Create something unique”
Event also created the 3D design, graphics, lighting and wayfinding, which aim to “create something unique and break expectations”, says Esther Dugdale, creative director at Event.
The new space includes five permanent thematic galleries – Soldier, Army, Battle, Society and Insight – alongside a temporary exhibition space, a study centre, a learning centre, a café, a shop and a soft play and early learning area for children up to the age of eight.
The permanent galleries feature 2,500 objects, the majority of which have been previously unseen by the public.
Tank and rifle-shooting simulations
Interactive exhibits have been used in the museum, such as a tank operating experience for teams of three, where visitors can take on the roles of driver, commander and gunner and learn how to co-ordinate, as well as climb up into the turret.
Other interactive 3D exhibits include those based on drumming, rifle-loading and camouflaging, while multimedia exhibits use augmented reality (AR) to give visitors insight into scenarios requiring moral decision-making, the insides of tanks and warfare tactics tables.
“Family audiences are key for the museum,” says Dugdale. “We aimed to provide elements for children as well as adults, so they can enjoy their visit together.
“The museum was also keen to cater for different learning modes,” she adds. “Interactivity adds to the diversity of each visit, and doing some of the simple things that soldiers do helps build connection with visitors.”
British Army’s decline in take-up of trained soldiers
The new museum comes as the British Army has seen a decline in the number of trained armed forces since 2011, and is edging away from the UK Government’s target of 82,000 trained soldiers by 2020. In September 2016, the figure was 76,700.
“The new museum aims to create dialogue about the army – not to promote it, but bring discussion of it into the public domain,” says Dugdale.
“The displays express its multi-layered history and relationship with the public. It does not shy away from some of the more difficult issues, but also gives a voice to the many who have served and what they have experienced,” she adds.
The National Army Museum is based at Royal Hospital Road, Chelsea, London SW3 4HT.