Sunday, November 14, 2010

Imperial War Museum North

Imperial War Museum North (sometimes referred to as IWM North) is a museum in the Metropolitan Borough of Trafford in Greater Manchester, England. One of the five branches of the Imperial War Museum, the museum explores the impact of modern conflicts on people and society. It is the first branch of the Imperial War Museum to be located in the north of England. The museum occupies a site overlooking the Manchester Ship Canal in Trafford Park, an area which during the Second World War was a key industrial centre and consequently heavily bombed during the Manchester Blitz in 1940.

The museum building was designed by architect Daniel Libeskind and opened in July 2002, receiving 470,000 visitors in its first year of opening. It was recognised with awards or prize nominations for its architecture, but has also been criticised for poor energy efficiency.
The museum features a permanent exhibition of chronological and thematic displays, supported by hourly audiovisual presentations which are projected throughout the gallery space.

I was put off by this museum, and I didn't much care for it at all.  Maybe it was the "good time" atmosphere and all of the smiling and laughing school kids.  The style of treatment of the history of warfare I thought to be a bit too sanitary and comfortable, two things that war are definitely not.  I am not suggesting that people out to be brutalized to understand the subject, but I do think that a certain kind of solemnity should be observed when you are discussing the violent deaths of millions of people.  The best part of the museum was the viewing platform, where you could see the locations of the buildings that were bombed in the blitz. And even that, I found to be lacking because you had to look through a louver, not glass.

To me, that is what the museum should have focused more on... the fear and uncertainty that must have been terrible for the people of Manchester during that time.  Architecturally, I think the building is pompous.  It seems to have no real purpose other than to be a weird shape, though it does in fact encapsulate a 38,000 sq. ft curved open gallery space. 
I was, nevertheless, distracted by the ongoing sitework at the quayside, the barricades, and the ugly building directly behind it.  The structure does have a drama about it, but I would have a hard time figuring out that it represented a fragmented globe without this being the popularized metaphorical interpretation of it.  It just didn't appeal to my taste, but I should have known that a war museum would taste like oil and gunpowder...bad.

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