Student adventures. Jenni heads North

By November 16, 2009 Architecture No Comments

The imposing presence of the Imperial War Museum

After my usual weekly meeting with my tutor regarding my dissertation on memorial spaces we decided that The Imperial War Museum in Manchester might be a possible building for some primary research.  As I had never visited the building before (there was a trip in my first year of university but being the lazy fresher I was I decided to give it a miss) I thought a quick trip might be of use to see if the building would be appropriate to use in my dissertation.  So on Friday morning I hopped on the train to Manchester.

The museum was established in 1920 but the current building was designed by Daniel Leibskind and construction was completed in July 2002.  Its purpose is to tell the story of war in modern times on a worldwide scale down to personal memories .  The concept for the design comes from this idea with the building representing a broken world comprising of three pieces, each with its own distinct shape.

The amount of information and personal items is incredible, from weapons to individual accounts.  The building is divided into three main spaces: the main exhibiton space, a space for temporary exhibitions and a twenty nine metre high viewing tower.  There is also a learning area, shop and cafe overlooking the river.  The main exhibition space takes you through the years of war from WW1 to the current day with shard like pods intersecting the space to house exhibitions about different aspects of the war.  The layout of the space works brilliantly with the ‘Big Picture’ shows that are projected onto the outside walls of the pods every hour.  These picture shows use photographs, films and soundbites to completely surround the visitor in war and its effects on individuals and the entire human race, creating a powerful impact on the visitor.  The use of the timeline through different wars, the picture show and personal artifacts is surprisingly striking and at one point I actually found myself in tears whilst reading a letter from a father to a daughter.

Whilst I was visiting there was a temporary exhibition about prisoners of war which was interesting (but very sad) to learn about as I knew little about this previously.

The raw industrial style of the building is extremely fitting and as you walk through the main space there are subtle changes in heights and openness, almost reflecting the rise and fall of society.  This works brilliantly against the exhibition, with changing words from freedom to dictatorship running along the walls, creating a sensationally interesting and poignant experience.  A definite case study for the dissertation as the space works beautifully in the sense of architecture and memory.

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