The redesigned atrium aims to draw out the life stories of the objects on display. ©IWM

IWM unveils London redevelopment

Simon Stephens, 18.07.2014
New First World War Galleries mark start of centenary year
Imperial War Museum (IWM) London’s unveiling of its £40m redevelopment this weekend is one of the key events in this year’s world war one centenary.

The new spaces include permanent First World War Galleries, which feature more than 1,300 objects from the museum’s collection. There is also the transformed atrium, which includes more than 400 objects, ranging from aircraft and tanks to letters and personal mementos.

The nine large objects that visitors see as they enter the atrium include a Harrier, Spitfire and a V-1 rocket suspended from the ceiling, a T-34 tank and a Reuters Land Rover damaged by a rocket attack in Gaza.

“The old atrium, revolutionary in its time, had lost much of its coherence and meaning,” said Nigel Steel, the principal historian at IWM. “The medium- to large-sized objects existed in isolation, there was no apparent link between them.

“What we wanted to create instead was a dynamic new central space that draw out the life stories of these objects to release the energy and intrigue that we could see in all of them,” Steel said.

“We saw the objects as speaking out loud about history, instead of the silence that existed in the old days – what we wanted to feature in the new central space was a series of conversations between these objects.”

The First World War Galleries include displays showing the brutality of the conflict, including a French field gun that contributed to the deaths of a million men in just four months of fighting in 1914.

“War is about people dying, although it is also about people living, about extraordinary experiences, great innovation, art and all of these things,” said Diane Lees, the director of IWM.

“But at the core of it, it is about some of the most extreme human behaviour you will ever see, so you can’t really dress it too simply or too naively. We did have some angst about the images but we have been a bit braver, it is fair to say.”

Casson Mann was the exhibition designer for the redevelopment, while Foster + Partners was the architect.

Lees said the next phase of the redevelopment of IWM London, which is expected to cost £25m-£35m, would include more space for second world war displays and a possible reworking of the Holocaust Gallery.

Lees paid tribute to the work of curator Roger Tolson, who contributed much to the redevelopment of IWM London but died earlier this year from cancer aged 55.

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