Design

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Ralph Appelbaum Associates take to the skies

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Ralph Appelbaum Associates, the largest museum exhibition design firm in the world, recently lent their expertise to the Royal Air Force Museum in London. The new permanent exhibition will look at the planes used during the First World War, and will be dubbed (rather aptly); “First World War in the Air.” It will be taking place in the museum's Grahame-White Complex, named for the English aviation pioneer, who was the first pilot ever to make a night flight. It aims to teach visitors about the role aviation played in the first great war, looking at the growth of the sector, which started the war with just 250 men in 1914 (in what was then called the Royal Flying Corps), and ended it with 250,000 men and women 4 years later in the RAF.

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Patrick Swindell, senior designer and project leader at Ralph Appelbaum Associates, said the team were trying to tell a story with the design of the exhibition. He said they “Tried to use a whole range of interpretative techniques, from collections, to interactive and media.” He also believed that “Previously the museum hadn’t made the most of their collections apart from their aircrafts,” so they wanted “To integrate the smaller pieces with them” as well to give a more complete picture of the aviation world 100 years ago.

The new permanent exhibition will look at the planes used during the First World War

The exhibition will feature various recreations of the planes flown during the war and will also be presenting personal artefacts that belonged to the pilots who flew those planes, such as letter, uniforms and medals. The design team also took old drawings of pilot training devices and used them to design modern mechanical versions, which visitors can use. “You can sit in the cockpit of a First World War aeroplane and operate the controls,” Swindell says. There's also a steel bomb shelter called a Nissen Hut; a corrugated dome structure, which can be used (according for Swindell) “For loads of different activities, such as live action role play.”

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The exhibition tells the story of the RAF's formation, which is separated into air and ground aspects, quite literally. Swindell said they used the full height of the available space by “Suspending aircrafts in the air, then mapping out a battlefield with media on the gallery floor.” The result is a truly dynamic and exciting display. Angela Vinci, head of exhibitions and interpretation at the museum, and project manager on the new exhibition, seems to agree. She says the team at RAA has supported them in delivering their vision “Of a narrative-led and object-rich gallery that will engage with a more diverse audience.”

The exhibition tells the story of the RAF's formation

First World War in the Air marks the start of the museum's ten-year improvement plan, with other aspects of the project, such as multimedia installations that project a moving, animated map and test the World War One knowledge of visitors, seen as significant steps in improving visitor immersion. The exhibit will open on the 4th of December 2014 and will run through until the end of 2020.

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