National AirMail Museum, Fort Wayne, IN

A hands-on museum repurposed in a historic building as an educational and cultural center

The Need

Smith Field, which played a key role in our nation’s history of Airmail service, offers a physical space and educational opportunity, which have been underutilized. In addition, the Fort Wayne region would benefit from a new tourist attraction as well as a cultural center for the local community. 

Our Approach

Starting with the iconic airplane hanger, we designed a space that would inspire visitors by embodying the authenticity and new possibility of early twentieth century aviation.  By accentuating the physical structure with its soaring ceilings and echoing those architectural details in the exhibit design, we created an immersive environment that embodies this vibrant tradition. This place, comprised of exhibit halls and a café, inspires visitors by teaching about the individuals and concepts that made Airmail service such an important American success story.  The exhibits, including historical re-creation alongside technology and an active airplane restoration, bring the subject to life and encourage interaction between guests and museum staff. Our work on this project also includes drafting the proposals to secure the support of the financial and community partners required to realize this vision.

The Airmail Museum’s offerings will attract tourists from out of the area. In addition, the flexibility for rotating exhibits and large scale event use ensure that the museum retains continued relevance for area residents. This combination of purposes serves to ensure the institution’s ongoing fiscal sustainability, while creating a unique and authentic place for educating and engaging a broad community.

Museum Design, Community Engagement, Visual Identity, Exhibit Design, Immersive Environment, Physical Design, Experience Design, Permanent Installation, Architectural Integration

The National Airmail Museum will be a place for the community to come together and celebrate the storied history of Fort Wayne and the city’s role in aviation history and the development of the National Airmail Service. The Museum will be housed in Hangar 2 at Smith Field Airport and feature interactive, hands-on exhibits that provide an in-depth perspective and bring this story to life. The museum will also be home to the Experimental Aircraft Association’s (EAA) Chapter 2 Headquarters, gift shop and a uniquely themed dining experience.