A fresh take on a much-loved museum
The National Army Museum is a much-loved British institution. It is the only museum to tell the story of the British Army stretching from the middle ages to modern day. Established in 1960 and housed in a Brutalist-style building, the original museum was a linear, chronological journey through a series of low, black-box spaces connected by maze-like passages.
We worked to revamp and revitalise the museum for a modern-day audience, opening it up to create a more welcoming space – both physically and metaphorically. From masterplan to completion, we transformed the museum for the 21st century.
Opening up the museum’s stories and collections
Our masterplan proposed physically opening up the museum space. Architects BDP then knocked through the low black-box rooms to make way for a new central court with a soaring ceiling and dramatic entrance installations. Large new windows let light into the atrium space, welcoming you in off the street. Once inside the court, circulation is improved. All gallery entrances are visible from the central space and act like shop windows, drawing you in towards them.
The museum has opened up interpretively as well as physically. We moved away from a traditional, chronological retelling of military history towards a new thematic approach that considers society and culture as much as battles and military strategy. Content focuses on things that we can all connect to – what do soldiers eat, where do they sleep, how often do they see their loved ones? Not just in war, but peacetime too.
Tackling challenging topics
First-hand stories are told throughout, promoting connections with people from the past. Personal objects, from prosthetic legs to letters to loved ones, can be found among big installations such as armoured vehicles and full-size missiles. Interactives put you in the shoes of a soldier. Highlights include being led through a military drill, testing your battlefield tactics on a scale model of Waterloo and an immersive recreation of the front line.
The museum gives a voice to those who have given their life in service, yet does not shy away from challenging topics. From Northern Ireland to the Indian Rebellion, the museum aims to open a discussion, rather than present a single perspective.
The new National Army Museum was opened to the public in 2017 by HM Queen Elizabeth II.