Purpose-built to structurally and spatially engender the brutal, thankless spirit of war and its impact on individual lives, IWM North celebrates 20 years of changing the public perspective on large-scale conflict from the First World War to the present day, with entirely free entry throughout its history. Designed in the image of a shattered globe – an exhibit in itself – the museum has welcomed over 5 million visitors, won 30 awards, held over 40 special exhibitions and displayed over 1400 deeply affecting documents, objects and artworks in its Main Exhibition Space.

Having been offered 71 sites beyond the South East for its new hub of unrivalled collections, IWM chose Trafford Park for its singular wartime heritage; today’s warehouse labyrinth once operated as a vital nexus of dock supplies and factory munitions, and endured many deadly raids from the Luftwaffe. In 1997, acclaimed architect Daniel Libeskind was picked to design the new site, having designed Berlin’s Jewish Museum with an ethos that a museum’s physical dimensions should imbue its subject matter with richer meaning. With an unflinching blueprint of a world torn apart by war, Libeskind built the museum from three of its fragments, or ‘shards’, representing conflict across land, water and air respectively, and arranged them in confrontation with one another.

Housing the Main Exhibition Space and Special Exhibition Gallery, the EarthShard sits low and curved, while the unmistakeable AirShard pierces the Manchester skyline with the silhouette of a raised sabre. Harbouring the museum’s multi-purpose spaces, the WaterShard ebbs away from the other structures with stirring views of the Manchester ship canal.

From the largest displays, like Blitz shelters and debris from September 11th, to soberingly minuscule artefacts of death like gnarled bullets and Iraqi Most Wanted playing cards given to US soldiers, the pieces featured at IWM North are a haunting collective depiction of combat on every scale, which allows visitors to better comprehend the true consequences of mass warfare – with every casualty a rich individual life.

IWM North,
The Quays, Trafford Wharf Rd, Trafford Park, Stretford, Manchester M17 1TZ
, Tel: 0161 836 4000, FREE, 10am-5pm
Wolf McFarlane
Published on:
Fri 8 Jul 2022