Museum: theatre of war opens new front in the north

Imperial War Museum North
Trafford Park, Manchester

Imagine a globe shattered by conflict, its fragments reconfigured into something strange and new, tilting at all angles, wildly out of kilter. War changes everything.

This is the concept behind the Imperial War Museum North, its message proclaimed by three vast steel and aluminium shards that slice disconcertingly into the Trafford skyline.nbsp;

The shards represent the three arenas of war: "Air" rises 55 metres skywards, four degrees off the vertical; "Earth" and "Water" curve uneasily alongside the Manchester Ship Canal.

A footbridge away from the Lowry Centre across the canal, the new museum houses some of the Imperial War Museum's vast collections, in which awesome bits of military hardware are viewed alongside a huge archive of domestic paraphernalianbsp;- personal belongings, documents, letters - as well as millions of sound recordings, photographs, and film footage of those affected by war.

The Imperial War Museum in London was established by an Act of Parliament in 1920 to collect, preserve and display material and information connected with military operations in which Britain or the Commonwealth had been involved since August 1914.

Its founders realised that the First World War heralded a new era in which war would consume those at home as well as on the battlefield. Before 1914, only 10 per cent of casualties were civilian. Today, only 10 per cent of casualties are soldiersnbsp;- the rest are civilians.

While visitors to the rambling London museum experience busy rooms jam-packed with artefacts, the Imperial War Museum North is a pared-down piece of conceptual risk-taking. The narrative begins with the architecture.

The Air shard houses a viewing platform 29 metres above an area, now alive with redevelopment, which was once the largest industrial centre in Britain, transformed during the Second World War to accommodate munitions manufacture, and smashed during the Manchester blitz. Geography, history, technology - the learning is all to be had even before you enter the exhibition spaces.
sighted and their underlying vision should ensure the success of this bold northern venture.

Imperial War Museum North, Trafford Wharf Road, Trafford Park, Manchester M17 1TZ. Tel: 0161 836 4000; education and group bookings, tel: 0161 836 4064; education email:

Picture : a wrecked Land Rover hangs suspended as if blown up by a land mine

A longer version of this review appears in this week's Friday magazine

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