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Back to Manchester Part II: Imperial War Museum

Imperial War Museum North, Salford Quays, Manchester UK. Shot from a nearby bridge on a sunny, blue-sky day.

Imperial War Museum North, Salford Quays

It was still the day before I returned to Hong Kong after my two weeks back in Manchester, and still I was trying to cram all the photos I’d wanted to take during those two weeks into a single afternoon. After cycling up to Old Trafford for a second consecutive day, this time, thankfully, with the sun sticking around long enough to make it worthwhile, I peddled over the road to see what I could see of the Imperial War Museum and the new BBC Media City that had appeared in my absence.

The museum has been open since 2002 and was designed by Daniel Libeskind, architect of the new One World Trade Centre in New York and of Jewish Museum Berlin reknown. It overlooks the Manchester Ship Canal in Trafford Park over the water from the Lowry Centre and the BBC’s new MediaCityUK complex.

According to Libeskind, the design concept is that of “a globe which has been shattered into fragments and then reassembled.” The building is a “constellation”, no less, with the three interlocking fragments representing earth, air and water, while the three shards, are said to “concretize the twentieth century conflicts which have never taken place on an abstract piece of paper, but rather, have been fought by men and women by land, sky and sea.” All of which, coincidentally, is exactly what I was thinking as I was taking these photographs. What concretization!

The area is actually a thriving hub of culture these days. The Imperial War Museum, the Lowry Centre, the new BBC centre and Old Trafford are all within a few hundred yards of each other around the redeveloped Salford Quays. Indeed, it is an area that has its own strong links to war.

Trafford Park was a key industrial centre during World War II, with many of its factories turned over for use in the war effort. Rolls-Royce engines used to power the Spitfire and Hurricane fighter planes and the famous Lancaster Bomber were manufactured here, as well as the bombers themselves. Other factories produced gun bearings, munitions, tank tracks and many other things vital to the Allied campaign. As a result, the area was heavily bombed, particularly during the Manchester Blitz in 1940.

At the outbreak of war in 1939 there were an estimated 50,000 workers employed in the park. By 1945, that number had risen to 75,000, with the Metropolitan-Vickers aircraft factory alone employing 26,000 of the local workforce. For a museum that aims to show “how lives have been, and still are, shaped by war and conflict”, there couldn’t be a more appropriate location.

The museum won the Building Award in the 2003 British Construction Industry Awards and was shortlisted for the 2004 Stirling Prize for architecture. It received its millionth visitor in August 2005.

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