National World War I Museum


Ralph Appelbaum Associates

Practice Area


Liberty Memorial Association


Project Vision

In 2002, the Liberty Memorial Associated charged Ralph Appelbaum Associates with creating a museum that, like the memorial itself, would honor those who served in World War I in defense of liberty and country. The new National World War I Museum at Liberty Memorial in Kansas City, MO, chronicles one of the nation’s central epics, one that brought the United States onto the world stage.

Thematic elements go beyond just military equipment and weapons to artifacts that represent popular culture during the war and lend insight into the times. The museum’s “big guns,” positioned like sentinels around the main exhibit hall, are brutal reminders of war, but are also beautiful examples of industrial design. An extraordinary collection of war posters from Europe and America is showcased on two monumental walls.

The Appelbaum team created a fan-like museum plan that radiates from the Liberty Memorial’s core at its subterranean level. The Museum’s dramatic entry statement is a glass bridge over a field of 9,000 poppies, representing the 9 million who died during the war. A luminous glass wall encloses the exhibition hall, and two arcs formed by exhibit cases and artillery divide the experience-physically and symbolically-into an east and west side, representing the war before and after American participation.

Throughout the exhibit, encounters with immersive environments are structured around how the conflict left indelible marks on the earth: the earthen field dotted with poppies, an 80-ft. trench scratched into the earth, a scarred plain of “No Man’s Land,” and a huge bomb crater like those that pockmarked the Western Front.

Primary graphic panels are monumental and bold, relating metaphorically to the scale of the disaster. Diagrams, graphs, and maps provide an alternative way of understanding history and contrast dramatically with the Museum’s wealth of archival images, both still and moving. Graphic panels are abstractly layered in the style of early 20th century avant garde design, combining text, illustration, and photography on an infinite field. The exhibit typeface, Berthold Akzidenz Grotesk, dates from the period.

Video and audio are also layered into the Museum experience. Slow-dissolve video murals over display cases and environmental video projected on the floor showcase the Museum’s photo collection. Sixteen map animations on touchscreen LCD monitors illustrate major battles. A final video covers the peace conference and foreshadows the war’s terrible and lasting consequences.

Project Details
I salute you. An absolutely fabulous exhibition design that respects its subject matter while avoiding clichés.
Juror 1
The power and scale of the elements in this exhibit were immediately compelling. Artifacts such as military weapons, racks of uniforms, and cases of postcards are counterbalanced by well-edited photographic panels. Narrative text does not overwhelm the rest of the content and is presented for information, not as supergraphics. The typography is handsome and restrained. Intelligent planning is evident throughout, and allows the visitor to learn about the subject on many levels. The designers have organized a large collection of objects in a way that portrays the overwhelming impact of this event on a very human level.
Juror 2
Design Team

Ralph Appelbaum (principal in charge); Joshua Dudley, Scott Simeral (project directors); Mary Shapiro (content developer/writer); Fabio Gherardi (art director); Tana Green, Luka Kito, Jande Wintrob (exhibit designers); Josh Hartley (senior graphic designer); Aki Carpenter (graphic designer); Kate Cury, Judy Vannais (content coordinators); Nikki Amdur, Christine Valentine (editors); Jan Pietruska, George Robertson, Scott Shepard (3-D visualization); Don MacKinnon (modelmaker); Chip Jeffries, Tim Ventimiglia (initial concept)

Design Firm

Ralph Appelbaum Associates


Donna Lawrence Productions (linear media production: Horizon and Orientation theaters Peace? video, immersive audio experiences); Second Story Interactive Studios (interactive media production: tables, battlescape maps, portrait walls); John Butterfield Associates (game design); Electrosonic Systems (overall audio/visual engineering and installation); Potion Inc. (interactive table engineering); SH! Acoustics (acoustical design); Technical Artistry (lighting design); ASAI Architects (renovation architects); Group One Architects (exhibit hall architects); John Rohrer Contracting Company (general contracting); Turner Construction Company (design/build general contractor)


Explus (lead fabricator, millwork, case interiors, furniture, graphics); Taylor Studios (scenic fabricator and cast figures); Sanders Museum Services (collection mounting and installation); Meyvaert Museum Glass (glass case fronts and structure); Capital Electric (lead electrician and lighting installation); Folia Industries (large-scale laminated graphics)