A first look at the new Imperial War Museum

The Imperial War Museum in London is set to reopen its doors following a six-month long, £40 million overhaul.

Atrium designed by Foster + Partners

Source: Nigel Young, Foster + Partners

Aircraft suspended in the new atrium

Architect Foster + Partners has led a masterplan project, which has seen the reconfiguration of the building around nine large objects housed in a new atrium supported by architectural fins.

The objects include a Harrier, a Spitfire, and a V2 rocket suspended in the air, while on the ground is a T34 tank and a damaged Reuters Land Rover.

Galleries on each floor have been redesigned with a glass wall at the end which overlooks the atrium, or in some cases have been left open so that the gap can be plugged by vehicles or other large objects which loom out over the space.

Atrium designed by Foster + Partners

Source: Nigel Young, Foster + Partners

A vehicle hangs out over the atrium space

Casson Mann has worked with the museum on ‘choreographing’ these objects, as well as designing interpretation and curation solutions for the new First World War Galleries, and World War II and post-war galleries.

In a bid to break from ‘the inevitable expectations associated with the timeline of battles’ Casson Mann creative director Roger Mann says the First World War galleries use richly layered scenographic structures to provide a narrative framework for understanding the dynamics of World War I.

There is a strong emphasis on story-telling, entirely through first-hand contemporaneous accounts, which have been interpreted in a variety of ways.

Quotes and anecdotes and other information drawn from IWM’s archive of personal letters, diaries and documents have been integrated with artifacts, film and photographs to tell the story of the conflict by offering visitors a personal and reflective experience.

The trench in the First World War Galleries

Source: IWM

The trench in the First World War Galleries

After encountering pre-war context exploring some of the trigger points of World War I, visitors are introduced to the home and battle fronts simultaneously.

‘An outer lane is the war front and an inner lane is the home front. There are two different aesthetics – one is that of a battlefield and the other the streets of home cities and factories.’ says Mann.

As visitors walk through the First World War Galleries they experience both fronts simultaneously before funneling into a trench where a Mark V tank and Sopwith Camel emerge just above their heads.

Designed as an immersive experience, birdsong, gunfire and voices can be heard as visitors travel through. Silhouetted projection shows the movement of men, and the end wall shows a series of rolling pictures of life in the trenches.

The 'shock section' of the new First World War Galleries

Source: IWM

The ‘shock section’ of the new First World War Galleries

Mann says, ‘We wanted to give a sense of what it was like to live in the trenches. We actually dug one in Sussex from the same chalky soil that you’d find in France. A Jesmonite cast was then made and that is what visitors will walk through.’

Across the gallery, lighting, sound, media, objects and voices are used to create ‘dramatic moments and poignant encounters’ which are both ‘shocking and visceral’ and ‘reflective and intimate’ according to Mann.

The consultancy has also worked with IWM’s curators to create temporary displays representing key WWII and post-1945 conflict on the upper atrium levels. 

‘While temporary, these displays still need to do a big job in that they will effectively represent key events in the major post IWW conflicts until the full refurbishment programme has been completed,’ says Mann.

Atrium designed by Foster + Partners

Source: Nigel Young, Foster + Partners

The new atrium space

In addition Casson Mann has also created ‘reflection areas’ which Mann says ‘are round recesses like a shell-hole, where ethical issues are talked about – like, is any weapon acceptable to be used in war? and exploring soldiers thoughts on to kill or be killed.’

Visitors can sit in the reflection areas listen to accounts and opinions from soldiers, watch animated material and look at objects, which fit into the context of the discussions.

A new shop has been designed by Drinkall Dean and two new Peyton Byrne cafés have been designed by Foster + Partners.

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  • Will Baxter November 30, -0001 at 12:00 am

    Judging by the pics it makes me want to go – so the designers have done their job!

  • Mark Magidson November 30, -0001 at 12:00 am

    I must say that weapons of war treated as sculpturally aesthetic objects always makes me feel very queasy. The V1 and V2 rockets sitting in sculptural splendour in the central atrium photo hopefully also tell the story of destruction they caused to our cities and our “proportional” response in the firestorms created in Dresden and other cities – I am looking forward to seeing the link and label on these that remind us of other rockets falling on cities today and the “”proportionality” of response

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