Libeskind’s Imperial War Museum North

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We’ve not been over to Salford Quays for a while, but on Sunday we were showing our young Japanese friend, who we met when visiting the Bauhaus in Dessau last year, around Manchester. She’s an architecture student so a trip to Salford Quays to see the Lowry and the Imperial War Museum was a must.

The Imperial War Museum stands on the Trafford side of the quays. It’s a striking aluminium clad structure designed by Daniel Libeskind standing by the waterside.


Liebskind is renowned for his dramatic metal clad buildings including the Jewish Museum in Berlin, his first major international success, which we’d visited last year. He also designed the Grand Canal Theatre in Dublin which I made a point of going to see during a recent visit to the city.


The architect’s website describes the concept of the building

The design concept is a globe shattered into fragments and then reassembled. The interlocking of three of these fragments—representing earth, air, and water—comprise the building’s form. The Earth Shard forms the museum space, signifying the open, earthly realm of conflict and war; the Air Shard serves as a dramatic entry into the museum, with its projected images, observatories and education spaces; and the Water Shard forms the platform for viewing the canal, complete with a restaurant, cafe, deck and performance space.



Inside, the architect has deliberately employed the curves of the building, sharp angles and sloping floors to disorient visitors to simulate the effects of war and conflict.The design of the lighting, long angled luminaries, which are very similar to the arrangement of the windows and lighting in the Berlin Jewish Museum, contribute to this.


The air shard – the tower – is an aluminium clad skeleton, which is empty other than a viewing platform about two thirds up that is accessed via a lift or stairs. We didn’t go up this time for the views over the Quays. It’s a little scary as the floor of the pattern is metal gridding which you can see through – right down to the ground many metres below.


Jewish Museum Berlin – Architecture


When we arrived in Berlin last Monday, it was around 5 o’clock by the time we had checked in and settled into our hotel. We’d discovered when planning the trip that the Jewish Museum was open until 10 o’clock on a Monday evening, so decided that a visit would be a good way to spend our first evening in the city.

We took the U-Bahn from Alexanderplatz, which was a little stressful as the ticket machines wouldn’t accept the only 5 and 10 Euro notes we had on us and they don’t accept 20 Euro notes. It was quite frustrating and a little embarrassing as a queue of commuters was building up behind us. Luckily a seller of the German equivalent of the Big Issue saw what was going on and changed a note for us so we were able to buy our tickets with coins. We left him a coin as a thanks for helping us out. Coming back later on we discovered that there was a bus that stopped outside the museum that would take us back to Alexanderplatz. A few lessons learned there – sometimes buses are easier than the underground. (And taking a double decker bus is sometimes a good way of seeing the sights).

When we finally arrived at the Museum, being dark we couldn’t really see much of the outside of the building. We knew that would be the case. but we were able to get a flavour of the building and  experience the architecture inside. Later in the week we decided to return during the daytime to have another look.

The museum has two buildings. The older part Baroque in style was built in 1735 and was originally used as for the Collegienhaus to the regal Court of Justice. Today it houses the entrance, shop, cafe and is used for temporary exhibitions. The newer part is the dramatic, zinc clad zig-zag designed by Daniel Liebskind, which is meant to represent a reconstructed, shattered Star of David.


The above image from Wikipedia  is an overhead shot of the museum showing the two building. It is out of date, however, as the courtyard of the old building has been enclosed  in glass to form an atrium with windows that overlook the garden. During our night time visit the glass  were like black mirrors that reflected the interior.


The outside of the Liebskind building is scored with irregular lines or slits which are glazed to form windows which in the daytime allow light to enter. But the positioning of the windows isn’t random – the Museum’s website tells us that

During the design process, the architect Daniel Libeskind plotted the addresses of prominent Jewish and German citizens on a map of pre-war Berlin and joined the points to form an "irrational and invisible matrix" on which he based the language of form, the geometry and shape of the building.

The positioning of windows in the New Building was also based on this network of connections.


When it was dark outside the window slits gave an interesting effect being pitch black.


During the daytime in some cases they appeared bright white letting light beams shine into the halls


but in other cases appeared blue – probably caused by the reflection of the sky.


Access to the new building and the permanent exhibition was via an underground tunnel – the "Axis of Continuity" which connects the Old Building with the staircase which leads up to the exhibition levels.

This is cut across by two other “axes”.



At the end of the "Axis of the Holocaust"  there is a heavy door which when opened allows access to the Holocaust Tower. This is a tall concrete shell with a slit at the top which lets in sounds of passing traffic and people from outside and, in the daytime, light. At night it was eerily quiet and almost pitch black inside this tall narrow room.


The "Axis of Emigration" leads outside to daylight and the Garden of Exile. In the garden there are 49 tall concrete stelae, set out in a square plot, which are filled with earth and planted with Russian willow oak. The garden is on a 12° gradient and this combined with the angles of the stelae made moving around it something of a disorientating experience – something Liebskind wanted to achieve – reproducing a sense of what the exiled Jews felt on reaching their destination


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The building reminded us  of the Imperial War Museum in Manchester, also by Liebskind. Both have metallic cladding and structures that are shattered and reconstructed forms. The globe in the case of Manchester and the Star of David in Berlin. Both are quite remarkable.