Koelnmesse GmbH / FSB
Koelnmesse GmbH / FSB
Koelnmesse GmbH / FSB

American Air Museum in UK prepares to reopen after people-focused revamp of Norman Foster building

The Imperial War Museum (IWM) in Duxford, UK, is about to relaunch its American Air Museum following a five-year redevelopment project, switching the focus of exhibits from the aircraft on display to a collection of extraordinary people linked with those machines.

Reopening to the public on 19 March, IWM’s newly-transformed American Air Museum has undergone a £3m (US$4.2m, €3.8m) redevelopment, with financial support provided by the Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF) and exhibition redesign by UK-based Redman.

As part of the project, the front section of the museum's Norman Foster-designed 70,000sq ft (21,300sq m) home – which won the 1998 Stirling Prize RIBA Building of the Year Award – was removed so planes could be shuffled around, before being restored.

“The project has taken five years to develop, with the museum being closed for one year of that time,” project leader Jennie Cousins told CLAD.

“We’ve taken advantage of the redevelopment to do some important conservation work on the aircrafts themselves, but more importantly we’ve re-presented the museum to tell the stories of people connected with the aircraft. We really wanted to change our approach, change the way we looked at the aircraft. Obviously they’re dominating and impressive machines but they’re operated by people and that’s what we wanted to look at."

“Almost everything has moved other than the on-display B-52 Bomber, which Norman Foster used to design the building based around its dimensions," Cousins added.

“This is the only piece of proper landmark architecture for purpose across the IWM site. Foster created this vast glass wall so you could see the runway and see the active planes behind. The story we’re trying to tell in here – particularly of the American air force during World War Two – is very connected with the airfield outside. As you’re looking at history you can look across the airport at actual aircraft flying beyond the suspended aircraft on display."

The refocused museum looks at the key role played by American air power in conflicts from 1918, with the dramatic displays of historic and contemporary aircraft. Among the 85 people who have their story told through the exhibition, IWM has sought out people from the past two decades, telling the story of modern conflict as well as historical.

“85 remarkable individuals talked about their lives and their relationships to these aircrafts,” said Cousins. “Those people shared their story, we collected their objects and put them on display. We’ve tried to present those stories in a way that our visitors will be able to get a sense of what it’s like to be able to sit opposite these amazing people.”

Imperial War Museum  Duxford  World War II  Gulf war  Aircraft  Museum  Heritage Lottery Fund  HLF  IWM 
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The Imperial War Museum (IWM) in Duxford, UK, is about to relaunch its American Air Museum following a five-year redevelopment project, switching the focus of exhibits from the aircraft on display to a collection of extraordinary people linked with those machines. Reopening to the public on 19 March, IWM’s newly-transformed American Air Museum has undergone a £3m (US$4.2m, €3.8m) redevelopment, with financial support provided by the Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF)
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18 aircraft occupy the building / Imperial War Museum Duxford
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Koelnmesse GmbH / FSB
Koelnmesse GmbH / FSB