Council of Europe Museum Prize 2000
ABTA Silver Otter Award for Best New Visitor Attraction World Wide 1999
Where war has ravished, war remains
Ypres. A place synonymous with death, disaster, devastation. More than 350,000 men from 17 nations gave their lives here.
Where war has ravished, war remains. Yet while the town still bears the scars of the Great War, it has come to symbolise peace and a healing of nations.
Our design for In Flanders Fields, a museum that remembers the fallen in Ypres, marked a complete departure from traditional war exhibitions. Avoiding catalogues of battles and lists of Generals, we tell the story through the eyes of the ordinary civilians and soldiers, whichever side they fought on, through the Great War.
In Flanders Fields takes its name from John McCrae’s famous war poem. McCrae reminds us that the dead once ‘lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow’. Our design is a tangible realisation of this, revealing the thoughts and feelings of ordinary men and women. How they loved, and were loved. Beyond their rank and service, their experiences of friendship and sorrow come to the fore. There are no translations; you hear and see the soldiers’ words in their own languages.
The experience is both immersive and innovative. Displays combine wartime memorabilia with multimedia shows that evoke the visceral experience of gas attacks or trench warfare. The No Man’s Land exhibit is a laboratory of the senses where shouts, songs and shellfire can be heard amidst a flood of memories and visions, offering a glimpse of what went on in the minds of the soldiers who fought and died there.
When the right words cannot be found, allegory comes into play. Symbolic installations surround the artefacts, asking you to think and feel, not just admire. The deprivation of liberty is communicated through a projected cage; the names of survivors are etched onto glass fragments of Ypres’s 12th-century cathedral.
The museum lives in the magnificent Cloth Hall, in the centre of Ypres town. Once the main market and meeting point between nations, it lay in ruins during the war only to be rebuilt to its former, medieval glory in the post-war years. The building itself is a reflection of the museum’s message of peace and healing.
A story of love and loss as much as remembrance and reconciliation, In Flanders Field is not just an exhibition, it is an experience that has changed how we tell stories of war.