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Imperial War Museum North, Manchester, UK

Issue 72 April / May 2013 : Retail : Museum


A decade on from its opening in 2002, the Imperial War Museum North remained without exterior illumination, but with the arrival of high profile neighbours to Salford Quays, DHA Design was drafted in to reinforce Daniel Libeskind’s bold architectural design.

For over a decade now, Salford Quays has been undergoing an incremental evolution from post-industrial dockland into a significant cultural hub for the north of England. Lying on the border between the Greater Manchester borough of Trafford and Salford City, the site straddles Manchester Ship Canal, once a major artery for the city’s textile trade and now a vital component of the areas visual identity, a reflective pool for the ever-growing landscape of illuminated structures.

As with so many development projects, the success of Salford Quays was predicated on the introduction of a few iconic buildings whose statement architecture would deliver world recognition and firmly lodge the site in the collective consciousness. The Imperial War Museum North (IWMN) was among this vanguard.

Designed by internationally renowned architect Daniel Libeskind, the building’s concept is based on a globe that has been shattered into fragments. Its form is created by interlocking three of these shards representing earth, air, and water; the realms of land, sky and sea in which conflicts are fought out. Within the museum, each fragment serves a different role. 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. The Water Shard forms the platform for viewing the Canal, complete with a restaurant, cafe, deck and performance space. Opened in 2002, the IWMN originally lacked the funding necessary to realise plans for landscaping and façade lighting, but with the approach of its tenth anniversary and the maturation of neighbouring developments, the time was right to properly mark the museum’s presence.

Crucially, the new Media City complex on the opposite side of the quay had recently been adopted as the new northern home of the BBC. Nightly local bulletins had begun using live feeds of the surrounding area as a backdrop and the museum wanted to maximise the exposure
this provided.

DHA Design was awarded the task of creating a nocturnal identity for the building. Their scheme comprises a combination of pole-mounted and inground fixtures, used to illuminate the aluminium façade, and red LED luminaires to pick out the quadrilateral cuts that allow visitors to look out from the restaurant and observation tower.

Sill 1000W parabolic projectors with customised pan and tilt brackets are mounted on ten-metre tubular columns that match those used at Media City. Similar six-metre columns hold Sill stripe projectors, again with pan and tilt brackets that enable the projection of strips of light at any angle. This makes them a useful solution for the museum’s angular elevation and helps minimise light-spill.

“The Sill products used at the IWMN are compact and efficient which means they can be mounted relatively discreetly without compromising views of this iconic building,” says DHA’s Desmond O’Donovan.“The range of accessories means glare is minimised and the high quality optics means that light is used efficiently.”

The scheme has been carefully designed and implemented to ensure that only the elevation is illuminated, and the light sources face away from the residential and business areas on the north side of the canal,meaning a minimum amount of disruption for those in the area.
During installation, the potential affect on the museum’s neighbours across the water was of particular concern.

“The primary viewing point had become the BBC’s studio, which was due to go on the roof of Media City,” explains O’Donovan. “We didn’t want to be in a situation where we had a big hotspot in the camera’s field of view, so the director of the museum liaised with the BBC to make sure they were happy with the proposed viewing angles and light intensities.

We got it right pretty much straight away, but we were conscious of that potential for reflected light to cause a problem.” In addition to the elevated projectors, Sill 485 series uplights, buried inground, were
used to illuminate the front of the Water Shard along the restaurant window. The frames of these windows, as well as the opening on the towering Air Shard, are accentuated in striking red.

As well as having associations with both the blood spilled in battle and the poppy, a symbol of remembrance in the UK, these gashes of colour also reference Daniel Libeskind’s original ‘shattered earth’ theme
by suggesting a burning magma layer beneath the broken shard pieces.

To create the effect, small recessed LED uplights from Lightgraphix were installed in a regular array along the sill of the restaurant window, while Lightgraphix LED battens were used to highlight the grill in front of the tower’s observation deck.


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