Experiencing Conflict Rose Oâ€™Halloran
Cover Figure. The Air Shard at the Imperial War Museum North Source : Author
Experiencing Conflict: To what extent can Daniel Libeskindâ€™s Imperial War Museum North be considered a phenomenological building among the work of Juhani Pallasmaa, Steven Holl and Peter Zumthor.
Rose Oâ€™Halloran 110050584
A Dissertation submitted in partial fulfilment of the degree of BA in Architecture, 2013.
Acknowledgements I owe sincere thanks to the staff at the Imperial War Museum North for assisting my visit, and would also like to show my gratitude to my tutor Professor Adam Sharr, for his help and continued support.
Contents List of Illustrations ........................................................................................................................................................... 6
Introduction ........................................................................................................................................................................ 9 The meaning of phenomenology in architecture ............................................................................................. 10
The work of Daniel Libeskind................................................................................................................................... 13
The Imperial War Museum North........................................................................................................................... 18
IWMN: the built reality................................................................................................................................................ 24
The Air Shard.............................................................................................................................................................. 24
The Earth Shard......................................................................................................................................................... 27
Lighting ......................................................................................................................................................................... 29 Materiality ................................................................................................................................................................... 32
The shattered globe ...................................................................................................................................................... 37
Conclusion ........................................................................................................................................................................ 41
Bibliography .................................................................................................................................................................... 44
List of Illustrations
Cover Figure. The Air Shard at the Imperial War Museum North Source : Author
Figure 1. L’architettura civile (1711), Ferdinando Galli da Bibiena, used by Dalibor Vesely to illustrate how the diagonal perspective ‘fostered discontinuity’. Dalibor Vesely, Architecture in the Age of Divided Representation: The Question of Creativity in the Shadow of Production (Massachusetts: MIT Press, 2004), p. 255. Figure 2. Jewish Museum Berlin, ground floor plan.
Daniel Libeskind, The Space of Encounter (London: Thames & Hudson, 2001), p. 27. Figure 3. The Imperial War Museum North in Salford. Source : Author
Figure 4. The Imperial War Museum North and the Lowry both contribute to the regeneration of the Salford region. Source: Author
Figure 5. A diagrammatical explanation of the museum’s form displayed to visitors in the entrance foyer. Source: Author
Figure 6. The Big Picture Show which engulfs the main exhibition space in images of war. Source: Author
Figure 7. Entrance to the museum from Trafford Road West. Source: Author
Figure 8. The Holocaust Tower and the Garden of Exile, at the Jewish Museum Berlin. Bernhard Schneider, Daniel Libeskind: Jewish Museum Berlin, trans. by John Gabriel, 4th edn
(Munich: Prestel, 2005), p. 28.
Figure 9. The curve of the main exhibition space’s floor; barely visible to the eye against the backdrop of sloping walls. Source: Author
Figure 10. The naturally lit Water Shard cafe. Source: Author
Figure 11. Steven Holl’s use of daylight. Steven Holl, Juhani Pallasmaa and Alberto Pérez-Gómez, Questions of Perception: Phenomenology of Architecture, 2nd edn (San Francisco: William Stout Publishers, 2007) pp. 62.
Figure 13. The black rendered walls of the museum’s Trafford Road West facade. Source: Author
Figure 12. Aluminium cladding. Source: Author
Figure 14. The use of concrete at the museum’s entrance. Source: Author
Figure 15. The material palette of the museum’s entrance foyer. Source: Author
Figure 16. The shattered globe diagram is unsubtly presented to visitors upon entrance. Source: Author
Figure 17. ‘Architectural Alphabet’ for the Jewish Museum Berlin. Daniel Libeskind, The Space of Encounter (London: Thames & Hudson, 2001), p. 26.
The dissertation aims to investigate the Imperial War Museum North, in Manchester,
designed by the office of Daniel Libeskind, and analyse to what extent it can be considered a phenomenological building. I will aim to discover whether the museumâ€™s theoretical meanings
(or lack of them) correlate to the work of architects widely considered as phenomenological in their approaches; including Juhani Pallasmaa, Peter Zumthor and Steven Holl.
In this piece, I will investigate the meaning of phenomenology in architecture, and the
link established between architecture and phenomenology by Martin Heidegger, as well as how more
â€˜phenomenologicalâ€™ meaning in architecture. I will use my findings to assess the work, and
approach, of Studio Daniel Libeskind, including the Jewish Museum Berlin, a building often
included in the context of phenomenological architecture. It will then be possible to analyse the
Imperial War Museum North both in the context of phenomenology and the previous works by its architect, and explore how successful it is as a redolent piece of architecture. This assessment
will be based on a study of the conceptual ideas behind the building, as well as the success of the
built reality; the use of materials, light, form, and observations made based on my own visit to the museum. To what extent the building can then be considered phenomenological will be
The meaning of phenomenology in architecture
In determining the extent to which the museum can be considered as a
phenomenological building, I must first define the meaning of the term and its architectural importance. In philosophy, phenomenology is the study of the things consciously experienced,
or phenomena. It focuses on the first person point of view, and approaching the phenomena of the world on the evidence of our subjective experiences, senses and emotions. As a result, the world is understood from a position of being already in it, before beginning to think about the
world. Philosopher Edmund Husserl developed and defined the term ‘phenomenology’ in 1900
in his work ‘Logical Investigations’, and is widely regarded as the founder of 20th century
philosophical movement of phenomenology.
The basis of phenomenology is the human perception and understanding of objects and
events, not an attempt to reduce them to an objective reality. The work of philosopher Martin
Heidegger was also influential, perhaps even more so than Husserl – he explored the importance of unconscious or semi-conscious experiences, and the study of these as a means to
a deeper understanding of the nature of being. 1 His later work made a clear link between architecture and phenomenology. In an essay titled ‘The Thing’, originally given as a lecture in
1950, Heidegger made the distinction between a ‘thing’ with which humans have a relationship,
and an ‘object’ which is passively observed. The philosopher explored the ability of ‘things’ to
‘gather the fourfold’ (earth, sky, divinities and mortals); in essence this was the potential of
interaction with the physical familiarity of daily things and activities to engage people with their existence. 2 In a later essay entitled ‘Building Dwelling Thinking’ Heidegger discussed buildings as ‘things’ by exploring the notions of dwelling and building:
The nature of building is letting dwell. Building accomplishes its nature in the raising of
locations by the joining of their spaces. Only if we are capable of dwelling, only then can we build.3
Heidegger established that building and dwelling were a vital part of the relationship
between people and the fourfold, through the ongoing tactile experience of inhabitation. 4 This
established a link between phenomenology and building that began to influence architectural 1
Martin Heidegger, Being and Time, trans. by John Macquarrie and Edward Robinson (New York: Harper and Row, 1962). 2 Martin Heidegger, ‘The Thing’, in Poetry, Language, Thought, trans. by Albert Hofstadter (New York: HarperCollins/Perennial Classics, 2001), pp. 161-184. 3 Martin Heidegger, ‘Building Dwelling Thinking’, in Poetry, Language, Thought, trans. by Albert Hofstadter (New York: HarperCollins/Perennial Classics, 2001), pp. 141-160 (p.157). 4 Adam Sharr, Heidegger for Architects, Thinkers for Architects 02 (Oxfordshire: Routledge, 2007), pp. 38-46.
theory in the latter half of the twentieth century, as shown by architects’ enthusiasm for
Bachelard’s The Poetics of Space and the work of Christian Norberg-Schulz. In Genius Loci:
Towards a Phenomenology of Architecture, Norberg-Schulz called for an architecture that would uncover original meanings, a phenomenology of place, to re-establish a connection with the natural world. This was a response to what Norberg-Schulz saw as the neglecting by modernist architecture of themes such as context, history and meaning. 5
More recent interpretations of phenomenology in architectural theory focus on the
sensory experience of buildings – their material qualities and atmospheres. Juhani Pallasmaa,
architectural theorist, discusses the necessity for architecture to engage with more than just the
visual sense, in the key phenomenological work The Eyes of the Skin. In this he criticises a
perceived dominance of the visual realm in modern architecture;
The inhumanity of contemporary architecture and cities can be understood as the
consequence of the negligence of the body and the senses, and an imbalance in our sensory system... [This] tends to push us into detachment, isolation and exteriority. 6
Like Pallasmaa, Vesely also explores the problem of visual dominance in modern
architecture, in Architecture in the Age of Divided Representation, citing the development of
perspectival representation in the Renaissance as an early cause of ‘fragmentation and discontinuity’. 7 Both theorists also suggest the excess of imagery surrounding modern architecture as a cause for concern:
... in order to draw attention and facilitate instant seduction, architecture is increasingly turning into the fabrication of seductively aestheticised images without roots in our existential experience and devoid of authentic desire of life. 8
This contributes to the problematic idea pervading modern architecture that new work
must be constantly innovative, particularly in the visual realm, as part of a search for a new
architecture for modern times ‘emancipated’ from historical and cultural references. Vesely argues that this has disrupted the mediating role of architecture between people and their
environment, making us objective observers rather than participators. 9 Accordingly, the 5
Christian Norberg-Schulz, Genius Loci: Towards a Phenomenology of Architecture, ed. by Gabriella Borsano (London: Academy Editions, 1980), pp. 5-11. 6 nd Juhani Pallasmaa, The Eyes of the Skin: Architecture and the Senses, 2 edn (West Sussex: John Wiley & Sons, 2005), pp. 17-19. 7 Dalibor Vesely, Architecture in the Age of Divided Representation: The Question of Creativity in the Shadow of Production (Massachusetts: MIT Press, 2004), p. 40. 8 Juhani Pallasmaa, The Embodied Image: Imagination and Imagery in Architecture (West Sussex: John Wiley & Sons, 2011), p. 119. 9 Architecture in the Age of Divided Representation, pp. 35-40.
reaction to this crisis by architectural phenomenology must address sensory experience - scent,
touch, sound etc - but also shared meanings. Pallasmaa calls for an experience of architecture
that is richer than mere sensation:
The timeless task of architecture is to create embodied and lived existential metaphors
that concretise and structure our being in the world. 10
This concept of a shared reference point, or inter-subjectivity, is explored by Vesely,
who uses the horizon as an example, and its ‘power to define the boundary of our visible world, as well as in its invitation to transcend that boundary’. Vesely, after Heidegger, describes the horizon as ‘a fundamental measure for everything’. 11
From all of the above, we can then conclude that ‘phenomenological architecture’ should
pursue such references and shared meanings to inform architectural design and evoke
experiences, as well as having haptic and sensory qualities that allow a mediation between people and their understanding of the world.
The Eyes of the Skin, p. 71. Architecture in the Age of Divided Representation, p. 380.
The work of Daniel Libeskind
Understanding the work and architectural methods of Studio Daniel Lbeskind is crucial
in order to assess the Imperial War Museum’s place amongst ‘phenomenological’ architecture.
The building must be seen in the context of the architect’s previous work, his thinking and
approaches. This is particularly important in the case of the IWM North, designed by an architect well known not only for museum projects, but also for memorial and war-related architecture. This includes the Ground Zero Master Plan in New York, which is now under construction.
In Breaking Ground: Adventures in Life and Architecture, the details of Libeskind’s early
life give a greater insight into his work, and his interest in matters of ‘trauma and memory’. 12 Born in 1946 in Łódź, Poland, he was a talented accordionist as a child, expecting music to be his
future. He describes his family as ‘among the relatively few Jews left in Łódź’ after the Second
World War; they immigrated to Israel in 1957 and finally settled in New York. 13 Libeskind speaks of this ‘nomadic life’ informing his architecture; ‘There are many worlds in my head, and I bring all of them to the projects I work on’. 14
Having left music to study architecture at the Cooper Union for the Advancement of
Science and Art in New York, Libeskind received his degree in 1970. However he went on to study history and the theory of architecture at Essex University as a postgraduate, where he was
taught by Dalibor Vesely at the School of Comparative Studies. Vesely, as noted earlier, was a
key and influential proponent of phenomenology. His studies of consciousness and
fragmentation lead to the conclusion that there is a dis-connection between the first person point of view of humanity, and the natural world around us, which originated with the formation of Renaissance perspective (fig. 1). Architecture, he argues, must play a
communicative role in healing this disconnect, leading us away from the objectivity and separation of the modern world. 15
Daniel Libeskind, Breaking Ground: Adventures in Life and Architecture (London: John Murray Publishers, 2004) p. 12. 13 Breaking Ground, p. 9. 14 Breaking Ground, p .7. 15 Architecture in the Age of Divided Representation.
Figure 1. L’architettura civile (1711), Ferdinando Galli da Bibiena, used by Dalibor Vesely to illustrate how the diagonal perspective ‘fostered discontinuity’ (Source: Architecture in the Age of Divided Representation, p.255).
Similar beliefs about this role of architecture can be noted in Libeskind’s thoughts in
Breaking Ground. He writes: ‘we can feel the memory and meaning in a building, sense the
spiritual and cultural longing it evokes’. 16 His idea of a building evoking this longing is an example of the communicative role that Vesely asks of architecture, and is clearly a phenomenological approach, in its prizing of the first person point of view, and the idea of experiencing permanent spiritual or cultural knowledge. Libeskind also writes:
I am inspired by light, sound, invisible spirits, a distinct sense of place, a respect for
history. We are all shaped by a constellation of realities and invisible forces, and if a
building is to have spiritual resonance, it has to reflect these things... I draw from my
own experience – it’s what I know – and in doing so, I strive for a universality. 17
This reflects the Heideggerian approach to phenomenology; one of favouring personal
experience as a means to a more deep understanding of the nature of ‘being’. 18 The idea that buildings must reflect those things ‘we are all shaped by’, including a sense of place and history,
in order to achieve universality, is exactly what Vesely discusses in Architecture in the Age of Divided Representation. He states that ‘only the unity of representation can bring us closer to the depth and the plenitude of phenomenal reality’, arguing that this mediating role is lost as a result of divided representation. 19
Libeskind touches on other phenomenological ideas in Breaking Ground, albeit in the
more simple terms of his auto-biographical style. He notes:
Like music, architecture is often about direct encounter rather than analysis... you have
to simply let it wash over you. Buildings often exert their magic, their genius, in [this] way. 20
This direct encounter, or sensory encounter, with a building echoes Vesely’s thoughts on
the importance of corporeal involvement and a historical continuity of reference in giving
situations ‘richness’ and ‘stability’. 21 As noted earlier, recent approaches to phenomenology have interpreted the importance of direct encounter as being based on sensory qualities. Libeskind’s writing also seems to espouse this point of view: 16
Breaking Ground, p. 13. Breaking Ground, p. 16. 18 Martin Heidegger, Being and Time. 19 p. 18-19. 20 p. 67. 21 Architecture in the Age of Divided Representation, p. 383. 17
A well-designed building has an energy that is transmitted through its space, whether by
vibrations that are audible, such as footsteps or voices that travel across a room, or optical, as in the way a staircase or doorway presents itself, or physical, like the feel of the floor beneath your feet. 22
One of his most renowned buildings is the Jewish Museum in Berlin, a project referred to
as Between the Lines, after the title of his book on the subject, and often spoken of in a
phenomenological context (fig. 2). In The Space of Encounter, a monograph on Libeskindâ€™s work, Antony Vidler describes the museum:
[It] stands as testimony to the power of a certain kind of phenomenological stance before the world, a spatial evocation that, through brilliant and deeply thought formal moves, resonates with all the aura of the terrifying sublime. 23
Figure 2. Jewish Museum Berlin, ground floor plan (Source: The Space of Encounter, p.27).
Breaking Ground, p. 220. Daniel Libeskind, The Space of Encounter (London: Thames & Hudson, 2001), p. 222.
Vidler goes on to relate Libeskind’s building to the thinking of both Heidegger and
Sartre, citing his ‘obvious debt to phenomenology’. 24 The architect’s own statements regarding the museum in this book also imply a phenomenological approach or intent:
The conception with which I worked from the very beginning was that the physical
space and form should give substance beyond the visible; a dimension that forms a
permanent trace of the past in the future, of exhilaration and tragedy, of the closed and
the open, of fatality and hope. 25
Having established the phenomenological rhetoric about producing resonant buildings
and experiences which surrounds Libeskind’s architecture, the question of whether the Imperial
War Museum North achieves a phenomenology of architecture remains, including whether it was intended to.
p. 223. pp. 24-25.
The Imperial War Museum North The museum is situated at Salford Quays in Trafford Park, Greater Manchester and is
Libeskind’s first building in the United Kingdom, the third building ever constructed by Studio
Daniel Libeskind (fig. 3). The IWM North is the most recent of the five Imperial War Museums,
and the only one to be situated outside the South-East of England. Similarly to the Imperial War
Museum London, it aims to offer education and a greater understanding of conflict and war-time
experiences by documenting and exhibiting the history of modern warfare. The collections of IWM are well known for being large as well as impressive. In the early 90’s IWM began to
consider a museum in the North, and various locations and designers for the building. In
January 1999 it was announced by culture secretary Chris Smith that the IWM North project would go ahead in Trafford, with Libeskind as its designer. In fact, Libeskind’s design had previously been unveiled in 1997 and gained partial planning permission, leaving financial support as the main obstacle. 26 Construction began in 2000 and the museum opened in July
Figure 3. The Imperial War Museum North in Salford (Source : Author).
Ruth Slavid, ‘Libeskind’s constellation war museum presented to Salford’, Architects’ Journal, 16 October 1997, p. 15.
The museum was intended not only to address the conflicts of war and their effects on
our society but also to act as a beacon, or emblem of the future. 27 The role of the museum is
partly a product of its situation; it was proposed as a landmark building for the emerging
Salford Quays area, as part of the redevelopment of former dockland areas around the Manchester Ship Canal:
The importance of this act of construction is underscored by the re-creation of the entire Trafford region – urban regeneration, job creation, tourist spending. 28
Extensive writing and imagery (working sketches, diagrams,) regarding the
design process, exists in relation to Jewish Museum in Berlin, and is documented by Libeskind. 29 However much less is written by Libeskind about the process behind IWM North. It is
admittedly a smaller project, and markedly less significant in his career, as it is defined by critics. In The Space of Encounter, the project proposal text accompanied by technical drawings
of the museum focuses mainly on the museum’s role, its effect on the surrounding area of Manchester, and the composition of the building itself. Intentions for the building are clear:
The proposal for the Imperial War Museum of the North – dealing with the conflicts that
have shaped the twentieth century and will continue to shape the future – must be
supported by a broad vision. In order to give the public a striking emblem that in an instant illuminates both tradition and the new, the building must bring together culture and regeneration. 30
The museum is presented as acting as ‘a striking emblem’, as part of a ‘broad vision’,
presumably for the Trafford region, and Manchester as a whole. The contents, and indeed the central purpose, of the museum, are spoken of briefly, almost as an aside, when referring to this
role. Generic ‘conflicts’ of the twentieth century are spoken of without any emotional or
spiritual resonance, with no reference to specific conflicts or wars. However this interpretation may be hasty. Libeskind goes on to write about the nature of the museum and invokes the words of Paul Valery; ‘the world is permanently threatened by two dangers: order and disorder.’ The architectural importance of these words is then interpreted by Libeskind:
The Space of Encounter, p. 62. The Space of Encounter, p. 62. 29 The Space of Encounter, pp. 23-29. 30 The Space of Encounter, p. 62. 28
By navigating the course between rigid totalities on the one hand, and the chaos of events on the other, this building reflects an evolving identity open to profound public
participation, access and education. 31
Here is seen more clearly a role for the building that goes beyond urban regeneration.
‘Profound participation’ by visitors in the experience of the museum does seem to suggest the
architect hopes for an experience that is connected to deeper meanings, as is claimed for phenomenological buildings.
However, promises of ‘regeneration’ of the area seem to overshadow this. The
redevelopment of Salford consists mainly of housing and commerce, though the IWMN itself faces, across the canal, The Lowry (fig. 4). This theatre, gallery and commerce complex is
another intended flagship building; proposed to increase the cultural profile of the area and
designed by Michael Wilford. Similar to IWM North, its architecture is extrovert and eye-
Figure 4. The Imperial War Museum North and the Lowry both contribute to the regeneration of the Salford region (Source: Author). 31
The Space of Encounter, p. 62.
This area, however, has a cultural significance beyond economic development. The
Trafford Park engineering and industrial centre was developed in the early twentieth century,
and housed more than 200 factories, including many related to war efforts. The Second World
War was a key contributor to employment rates at the industrial park, with productions including aircraft engines and textiles. Trafford Park was pin-pointed by the Germans as a key
industrial area in England, and accordingly was bombed heavily as part of the Manchester Blitz. The area of Salford was badly damaged, with 215 people killed.
The museum’s unusual form stands out in this area and is explained by Daniel Libeskind
as having an important concept behind it: the spherical form of the world shattered by conflict into fragments or ‘shards’, which have been reassembled. The main functions of the museum are
housed within the Earth Shard, the Water Shard and the Air Shard, which in turn represent the three domains of warfare; on land, sea and in the air. The concept is succinctly explained by a drawing of Libeskind’s that greets visitors displayed on a wall adjacent to the museum’s entrance (fig. 5).
Figure 5. A diagrammatical explanation of the museum’s form displayed to visitors in the entrance foyer (Source: Author).
The so-called Air Shard houses the main entrance to the museum. It is open to the
elements, and, standing at 55 metres high with a viewing platform at 29 metres, provides views
of the Manchester Ship Canal and central Manchester. This shard interlocks with the Earth
Shard, home to the main exhibition space and public areas for the museum, while a restaurant
overlooking the Lowry resides in the Water Shard. The resulting form is a striking one, as described by Peter Blundell Jones in Architectural Review:
Its curves and diagonals differentiate it dramatically from the horizontal and vertical backdrop of ordinary buildings. 32
The projecting Air Shard can be viewed from various positions in Manchester, changing
the horizon of the city, as intended by Libeskind. 33 Originally conceived in concrete, after cost-
cutting the museum uses standing seam and flat panel aluminium for the roof panels, and it has
rendered exterior walls. The Imperial War Museum North suffered a severe budget cut; the bid
for funding was rejected twice by the Heritage Lottery fund and, accordingly, the initial budget of approximately £40 million in 1997 was reduced to £28.5 million. Construction began in 1999,
funded by money from developer Peel Holdings, English Partnerships, Trafford Metropolitan Borough Council, and the European Regional Development fund. 34
Changes that were made to the design because of this smaller budget are apparent when
comparing Libeskind’s initial competition drawings to the final building. The key concept of shattered globe remained, however concrete was substituted for aluminium, extra shards
surrounding the building’s exterior were axed along with a performance space originally planned for the Water Shard. The exhibition design also suffered; the plans by DEGW and
Amalgam were deemed too expensive and replaced by an idea formed between Libeskind and
the museum named The Big Picture. 35 This refers to a regular sequence of performances;
periodic displays of conflict imagery and sound effects that flood the exhibition space entirely,
illustrating war themes and stories. Films currently showing include Weapons of War, The War at Home and Children and War (fig. 6).
Peter Blundell Jones, ‘War Stories’, Architectural Review, vol. 213, no.1271 (January 2003), 36-43 (p. 36). The Space of Encounter, p. 62. 34 ‘Libeskind’s war museum to go ahead – but at a cost’, Architects’ Journal, 28 January 1999, p. 14. 35 The Space of Encounter, p. 62. 33
Figure 6. The Big Picture Show which engulfs the main exhibition space in images of war (Source: Author).
From the above we can conclude that the museum was intended to be a figurehead for
the regeneration of the Trafford Park region, resulting in Libeskind’s visually striking form consisting of three ‘shards’. It may therefore be argued that the role of the building as a
landmark and visitor attraction seems to precede any spiritual or experiential architectural intentions (at the stage of the proposal). It must also be acknowledged that severe cuts made to the original budget meant alterations to Libeskind’s design. The reality of the built museum
must now be analysed.
The Air Shard
IWMN: the built reality
The main entrance to IWMN is from Trafford Road West where a concrete path through the car parking area leads on axis to a narrow entrance at the base of the Air Shard (fig.7). Visitors enter directly into the 55 metre high aluminium tower, which houses the viewing platform. The
structure, designed with structural engineers Arup, is described in Architecture Today; it is ‘constructed entirely from galvanised tubular sections’ with bracing in every plane. 36 This is
necessary to support Libeskind’s design for the tower;
...each consecutive vertical frame is offset to create a curved facade and the entire 55m high tower inclines by 4˚, giving a 4m overhang from pinnacle to base. 37
Here is what many consider to be most sensational aspect of the tower. Once inside, the
inclining structure is not discernible to the eye, but instead causes the lift shaft to the viewing platform to seem tilted. In turn, once on the slatted platform at 29m, the surrounding buildings
of Salford viewed through a grille also seem skewed, or ‘on the verge of collapse’. 38 The resulting disorientation can be powerful, particularly to those unaware of the architectural trick.
David Dunster, ‘Devastation into Destination: Libeskind in Salford’, Architecture Today, no. 130 (July 2002) 42-57 (p. 54). 37 Architecture Today, p. 54. 38 Martin Spring, ‘War Poetry; Architects: Studio Daniel Libeskind’, Building, 9 November 2001, 40-47, p. 45.
Figure 7. Entrance to the museum from Trafford Road West (Source: Author).
A similar architectural experience can be had at Libeskind’s Jewish Museum Berlin; the
‘Garden of Exile’, an array of columns of concrete topped with trees, is described by Bernhard
Schneider in Jewish Museum Berlin:
Some visitors might find the constricted space between the columns and the uneven ground beneath their feet unsettling. The columns which are perpendicular to the
sloping paving do induce a feeling of dizziness, and make the surrounding buildings appear to totter. 39
A comparison can also be made between IWMN’s Air Shard and the Holocaust Tower
(fig. 8) at the museum in Berlin, a 24m tall empty silo, which like the Air Shard is unheated. 40
This results in the inevitable question of whether the application of such similar devices results
in a loss of potency, and meaning, of both the architectural experience and the intentions of Libeskind. Can the same motifs really be applicable over and over again?
Figure 8. The Holocaust Tower and the Garden of Exile, at the Jewish Museum Berlin (Source: Jewish Museum Berlin, p.28).
Bernhard Schneider, Daniel Libeskind: Jewish Museum Berlin, trans. by John Gabriel, 4 edn (Munich: Prestel, 2005), p. 50. 40 Jewish Museum Berlin, p. 51.
The tower is nevertheless a strong addition to the museum. Its emotive connection to
the surroundings is strengthened by the decision to use slatted aluminium (rather than opaque mesh), a necessary financial compromise after cutbacks. The translucence of the tower and its cold exposure to winds actually makes the space richer in experience, and it could be argued
that this connects the visitor to their surroundings in a distinctly Heideggerian sense. The
experience of the tower is elemental and sensual, connecting visitors momentarily with the sky and the earth, the primacy of being, just as advocated by Heidegger in ‘The Thing’. 41
However, the attempt to evoke an experience can seem heavy-handed, or simply
unsuccessful; architect David McCall describes his encounter with the tower:
Having ascended 29m of the air shard’s 55m... and taken in some great views of the
Lowry Centre across the water, I was left wondering what I was supposed to do next. What was I meant to be thinking as I stood mid-air taking in the view? 42
The Earth Shard
The journey to the museum space continues through a lobby area, confined by a low
ceiling that effectively juxtaposes the much larger volume of the Earth Shard that follows. The main exhibition space houses a timeline of events from 1914 onwards on the perimeter walls.
This is supplemented with ‘silos’ – individual towering spaces for focus on particular themes,
such as ‘Legacy of War’. While navigating the space, a main feature of the Earth Shard becomes
gradually apparent. As well as sloping, angled walls and the curved ceiling, the floor of the exhibition space is itself sloping, mimicking the curvature of the earth.
The complexity of this architectural move is explained, again by Arup, in Architecture
Today. The floor slab was bent to a spherical shape, and is ‘believed to be the first suspended spherical slab constructed in the UK’. The floor was designed around a ‘north pole’ point, from
which the floor slopes down in all directions. This point is subtly suggested to visitors by a small cross marked on the floor at the entrance to the space. From this point, ‘circular contours were set out at a constant change in height (similar to the earth’s lines of latitude)’. 43
Heidegger uses the example of a jug’s ability to gather the conditions of existence (earth sky man and divinities) through use and engagement. pp. 170-171. 42 David McCall, ‘Think Piece: Museum Revisit’, Intra, no. 31 (May 2005) p. 27. 43 Architecture Today, p. 54.
Figure 9. The curve of the main exhibition space’s floor; barely visible to the eye against the backdrop of sloping walls (Source: Author).
The slope is gentle initially, but increases in gradient further from the ‘north pole’ due to the spherical curve. As a result, the slope is felt by the feet and the body before one notices it
visually; an effect that is original and can be unnerving (fig. 9). The success of this feature is
shown by critics’ responses. Martin Spring writes:
The amazing effect of the sloping floor is that it is sensed not through the eyes but
through the feet. What more unexpected and discomforting an architectural device could there be? 44
In Architecture Today David Dunster notes that the space requires ‘persistence to grasp’
and describes another unsettling result of the slope:
‘War Poetry’, Building, 9 November 2001, 40-47, p. 46.
The slope of the floor and the slanted walls undercut any feeling that there is a centre, so
that during a presentation the building offers no comfortable static position. It is slightly disorientating and thoroughly remarkable. 45
The dramatic experience of this space can be analysed in terms of ‘Mimesis of the Body’,
as touched upon by Pallasmaa in Eyes of the Skin. He explains how a feeling of ‘resonance’ with an architectural space can often be the result of unconsciously using our body scheme to
measure and understand a space; ‘unknowingly, we perform the task of the column or the vault with our body’ and argues as follows:
The sense of gravity is the essence of all architectonic structures and great architecture makes us aware of gravity and earth. 46
The lack of reassuring verticals, and the unpredictable sloping of the ground in
Libeskind’s museum space, leaves visitors without the basic tools for bodily orientation. The result almost certainly makes one aware of ‘gravity and earth’, but offers the opposite
experience to that of ‘pleasure and protection’ described by Pallasmaa. 47 Here it could be argued
that Libeskind therefore uses phenomenological tools to evoke an unsettling experience, but
that it nevertheless results in a mediation between people and meanings of ‘ground’ and the earth.
The sense of disorientation is deliberately evoked and heightened throughout the
building, not just by the sloping floor. Walls in the exhibition space are angled, with sharp turns and tight corners created by the jagged shape of the floor plan. However what some find to be
the most discomforting is the lack of windows and views to the outside. The ground floor
entrance spaces, the main exhibition space and the temporary exhibition space, along with circulatory spaces, are lit by artificial lighting in jagged diagonal lines, an aesthetic that will be
familiar to those who know Libeskind’s work. The seemingly abstract light patterns in the main exhibition space are in fact based on cutting the sun’s path along the sky, and the fluorescents
are recessed into the ceiling as if to appear like real slashes in the roof letting sunlight in. Relief
comes with the Water Shard, where a large horizontal window allows the cafe to look over the quayside and the Lowry (fig. 10). 45
‘Devastation into Destination: Libeskind in Salford’, Architecture Today, 130 (July 2002) 42-57 (p. 47) The Eyes of the Skin, p. 67 47 The Eyes of the Skin, p. 67 46
Figure 10. The naturally lit Water Shard cafe (Source: Author).
Peter Blundell Jones offers an interpretation of the ‘oppressive’ lack of daylight:
This might be read as symbolic: war is dark, but the curators and exhibition designers
probably demanded it for their audio-visual display... Perhaps I am being mean to
Libeskind. With this demand for neutral space, most of the architect’s usual palette was denied him. 48
Here Blundell-Jones may be referring to the spiritual and powerful way Libeskind has
used light in the past, including in the Jewish Museum Berlin. As a result, the IWMN may be
judged to be less rich in sensual experience when compared to other phenomenological buildings and their use of light. Pallasmaa writes of the ‘constant, deep breathing of shadow and
‘War Stories’, Architectural Review, vol. 213, no. 1271 (January 2003), 36-43 (p. 42).
light’ in ‘great architectural spaces’ 49 and has praised other architects their use of light; he asserts that Steven Holl ‘re-sensualizes’ light. 50
An example of this is shown in Questions of Perception. Holl introduces the idea that
natural light ‘fundamentally orchestrates the intensities of architecture’ and explains how, in a project in 1985, an exoskeleton was used on the south elevation of a house to not only explore shadow effects but allow ‘easy reading of the time and day’ (fig. 11). 51
This approach to light in architecture, one that goes beyond placing windows or
luminaires for adequate lighting, is clearly a phenomenological one, in the sense that it subtly connects the users of the house with the natural passage of time experienced through the sun.
This may have been intended by Libeskind for the lighting in the main exhibition space but, with
artificial lighting, the resulting experience is much weaker, less sensual, than it might otherwise have been.
Figure 11. Steven Holl’s use of daylight (Source: Questions of Perception, p.62). 49
The Eyes of the Skin, p. 47. Juhani Pallasmaa, Encounters, ed. by Peter MacKeith (Helsinki: Rakennustieto Oy, 2005) p. 195. 51 Steven Holl, Juhani Pallasmaa and Alberto Pérez-Gómez, Questions of Perception: Phenomenology of nd Architecture, 2 edn (San Francisco: William Stout Publishers, 2007) pp. 63-64 50
In addition to the quality of light, material and haptic qualities of a building can
determine the depth of experience evoked, and its atmosphere. For many architectural theorists, the importance of materiality is a consequence of studying the embodied experience
of architecture. For example, the importance of ‘corporeal involvement’ in determining
perception of the world is explained by Dalibor Vesely. 52 Juhani Pallasmaa also asserts that ‘the experiential world is organised and articulated around the centre of the body’ 53 and that this
approach to architecture is the basis of his work The Eyes of the Skin. In a section named
‘Materiality and Time’, Pallasmaa discusses the ability of natural materials such as stone and wood to express age and history; they ‘allow our vision to penetrate their surfaces and enable
us to become convinced of the veracity of matter.’ 54 Machine-made, modern materials, he argues, tend to be unable to enrich architectural experience in the same way, because they do
not age or change with time. This concept is developed further in the essay ‘Hapticity and Time:
Notes on Fragile Architecture’ in Encounters and is clearly relevant to the Imperial War Museum
The use of aluminium creates a striking aesthetic for the building, and its sharp edged,
hard appearance contributes to the concept of clashing shards (fig. 12). However it offers no invitation for a haptic experience; the shards appear not to age and close by the aluminium has a
flat quality, both in appearance and touch. Besides, at ground level, visitors to the museum are mostly presented with the black rendered walls, with the metal shards sitting high above reach
(fig. 13). Interestingly, the two entrances to the museum are picked out from the building by the
use of a concrete covering, and the use of this material is strong. The markings from casting and joining the concrete are visible (fig. 14) and weathering is apparent. The strong solidity of the
material effectively underlines the impression of a threshold; a grounded and tangible point in the midst of the drama of the buildings form, particularly at the Trafford Road West entrance, below where the Air Shard collides dramatically with the Earth Shard (fig. 7).
Architecture in the Age of Divided Representation, p. 311. The Embodied Image, p. 125. 54 The Eyes of the Skin, pp. 31-32. 55 Encounters, pp. 307-319. 53
Figure 12. Aluminium cladding (Source: Author).
Figure 13. The black rendered walls of the museumâ€™s Trafford Road West facade (Source: Author).
Figure 14. The use of concrete at the museumâ€™s entrance (Source: Author).
The empty structure of the Air Shard, however, offers no real sense of material to engage
with, and finishes used within the building are similarly disappointing. Throughout the building’s journey, natural materials or the structure of the building cannot be discerned; walls are rendered and painted, both finishes which seem to dematerialise the quality of the
materials. The unsettling sloping floor of the main exhibition space is covered with a particularly synthetic-seeming epoxy resin. Accordingly, there is little opportunity for visitors to engage with the building and its materials from within; a multi-sensory experience of natural
materials is not had, and similarly to the aluminium exterior, the interior materials will not be seen to age with time.
The effect of materiality in architecture is directly linked to Heidegger’s phenomenology
by Adam Sharr as part of the Thinkers for Architects series. Sharr uses the work of Peter Zumthor as an example:
To [Zumthor], the physicality of materials can involve an individual with the world,
evoking experiences and texturing horizons of place through memory. 56
The use of materials and finishes used by Zumthor in a spa at Vals, Switzerland
demonstrates this skill, and is explained in an interview between the architect and Steven Spier in 2001. 57 He describes how the stone gneiss was used, and its significance in shaping the idea of a building that had been carved out of the mountains. The use of stone went beyond mere
simplistic symbolism however; a full range of finishes were employed throughout the building according to practical and sensual uses. This included the split stone straight from the quarry,
sandpapered and polishes, as well as chiselled and sawn stone. Zumthor reveals his phenomenological approach when explaining the desired effect of these finishes:
You can have a lot of sexy things with stone, stone and naked skin: the feel of it when
you walk barefoot, and how it feels if you go over it with your hands. So practical also
means pleasant, and in the end, more classically, also pleasant to the eye. But maybe pleasant for the body comes first. 58
Heidegger for Architects, p. 92. Steven Spier, ‘Place, Authorship and the Concrete: Three Conversations with Peter Zumthor’, arq: Architectural Research Quarterly, vol.5, no.1, pp. 15-37 58 ‘Place, Authorship and the Concrete: Three Conversations with Peter Zumthor’, arq, vol.5, no.1, (March 2001) 15-37 (p. 19). 57
This approach is praised by Sharr, who describes how Zumthor ‘choreographed’ these
materials, so that their ‘sensory potential was relentlessly exploited’, 59 and the use of the word
‘choreographed’ is appropriate, for it is the idea of ‘Material Compatibility’ the Zumthor
advocates in his book Atmospheres, not simply using quality materials. His material thinking
encompasses the ‘thousand different possibilities’ that exist in one material, and in how the
combination of materials produces a reaction. Zumthor calls this understanding of the use of materials ‘a grand secret, a great passion, a joy for ever’. 60
Though Libeskind’s use of aluminium at the IWMN is at times striking, there appears to
be no meaning attached to the material palette used within the building’s interior. Unlike
Zumthor, Libeskind has not choreographed materials, or employed them for their sensory
possibilities, but for practical and aesthetic reasons. The budgetary issues that surrounded the
museum’s conception must be considered. It is noted by Libeskind that his main focus in response to the halving of the budget was retaining the essential concept behind the building; that of the shattered globe, and he describes how the museum was redesigned:
I changed the materials, transformed the structure, stripped away the extras, simplified the construction techniques, all without compromising the essential ideas and meaning of the Shards. 61
Only as a result of the redesign was it possible to build the museum. However, it is clear
that the result changed the quality of materials, details and finishes (fig. 15). This prioritising demonstrates the fundamental importance of the museum’s form in Libeskind’s eyes. The form
of the museum has been valued over other experiential qualities, and emphasis placed on the
visual appearance of the building, particularly its exterior. The architect’s intention to provide a ‘striking emblem’ for Manchester will have contributed to this visual dominance. 62
Phenomenologists such as Juhani Pallasmaa, however, criticise the emergence of
architecture that allows the visual realm and sense of sight to dominate over others, and uses ‘a striking and memorable visual image’ to attract attention, in The Eyes of the Skin. He questions the ability of such buildings to have deeper phenomenological meanings:
Heidegger for Architects, p. 92. Peter Zumthor, Atmospheres, (Basel: Birkhäuser Verlag AG, 2006), pp. 23-25. 61 Breaking Ground, p. 233. 62 The Space of Encounter, p. 62. 60
... architecture has adopted the psychological strategy of advertising and instant persuasion; buildings have turned into image products detached from existential depth and sincerity. 63
Libeskind’s emphasis on the visual form of IWMN may therefore be considered the cause of a
lack of depth in the experience of the building. However, it must now be noted that priority is
not given to the form simply for aesthetic reasons, but in order to retain Libeskind’s concept of ‘shards’ of a shattered globe. The concept itself is valued above all else, and itself dictated the form, which is then why the form was given so much importance.
Therefore analysing this concept of a shattered globe – the process of its inception, how
it dictated the form etc - in terms of phenomenological architecture is key to understanding whether or not the building can be considered ‘phenomenological’.
Figure 15. The material palette of the museum’s entrance foyer (Source: Author).
The Eyes of the Skin, p. 30
The shattered globe
Libeskind’s autobiographical Breaking Ground shares the story of how he came across a teapot shaped like the globe in a street market, and took it back to his Berlin studio for inspiration. His insightful description of what followed is quoted at length:
“Let’s imagine this is the world,” I said to them, and we stared at the poor thing. Then I
had a further thought: Ah, the world is shattered by conflict. So I dropped the teapot from the window onto the courtyard on Windscheidstrasse... [We] carefully collected the biggest pieces – the shards, as we called them – and returned to the studio, where we played with them until they fit together in a semblance of a building. Stepping back, and studying what we had done, I saw that it worked. 64
Libeskind goes on to describe how the various shards were allotted their functions of
Air Shard, Earth Shard and Water Shard, according to their appearance and the needs of the
building. The image used to describe this concept, showing a globe gradually shattered and
reformed into the museum’s shape, is shown in the autobiography to make the architectural idea clear, and is indeed shown at both entrances to the museum, as well as in the IWMN’S guidebook and brochures (fig. 16).
It is clear that Libeskind feels visitors and critics of the museum must be aware of the
symbolism to understand the building. Peter Blundell-Jones alludes to this in Architectural
Review, in an article that discusses the explanation image, arguing that the symbolism of a shattered globe is ‘scarcely readable without the accompanying commentary’ and that the
‘articulation is not readily evident within the building’. 65 In fact, Libeskind’s work is referred to in general as being supported by ‘countless alibis’. 66 This description, however, can be read in a number of ways; the word ‘alibi’ offering both a negative and positive interpretation. Positively, an alibi may suggest that Libeskind’s metaphor and commentary on the museum’s form support
the design, and provide an idea to engage with. The word also brings to mind a sense of excusing actions, or offering proof; in this instance an excuse for the form and a proof of its supposed potency.
Breaking Ground, p. 231. ‘War Stories’, Architectural Review, vol. 213, no. 1271 (January 2003), 36-43 (p. 42). 66 ‘War Stories’, Architectural Review, vol. 213, no. 1271 (January 2003), 36-43 (p. 40). 65
Figure 16. The shattered globe diagram is unsubtly presented to visitors upon entrance (Source: Author).
It seems that the building’s form can only be understood after explanation, but the effect
on visitors of being shown the image, or ‘alibi’, is questionable. The focus on form and symbolism may in fact reduce the emotional impact of the building; it simply becomes a built logo. It could be argued that some of the spatial experiences at IWMN, such as the feelings of
disorientation evoked by curving floors, and the visual drama of the colliding forms, may be felt by visitors to be more striking, or stirring, without knowing their representative roles. This
viewpoint leads to a comparison between Libeskind’s Jewish Museum in Berlin and the IWMN.
The Jewish Museum’s jagged zig-zag form encompassed meanings and symbolisms that
were varied, including a distorted Star of David, and geographical lines traced through Berlin. Libeskind’s use of conceptual diagrams in the design of the Jewish Museum is explored in arq:
Architectural Research Quarterly, where it is claimed that such diagrams are not merely ‘translations of the information content of completed thoughts’ but that they aided the creative
...they interact with only partially formed, evolving ideas in dynamic thinking processes, through which novel representations can emerge. 67
Dogan and Nersessian outline various different approaches and diagrammatical
diversions Libeskind took on the way to the final zig-zag, or distorted star, form, including
plotting and joining meaningful buildings in Berlin and the historical relationship of German and Jewish history . 68 The many diagrams are all part of a search for a conceptual form for the
building (fig. 17). In comparison, the one shattered globe diagram of IWMN serves a different
purpose; it merely explains the metaphor behind a pre-conceived form. The diagram itself was not part of design process, and therefore represents a different way of working.
Figure 17. ‘Architectural Alphabet’ for the Jewish Museum Berlin (Source: The Space of Encounter, p.26). Moreover, it is noted by Bernhard Schneider that ‘to understand the [Jewish Museum
Berlin], it is not necessary to retrace the long path from its complex intellectual origins and background to the built result’. 69 The ideas explored in Libeskind’s diagrams are not offered to
visitors of the museum; the complexity of the ideas behind the form meaning they are not suited
to providing a logo, or over-arching metaphor. However Schneider later notes how people
‘appear to experience the drama and emotional force of this extraordinary spatial configuration immediately and instinctively’. 70 This ‘drama’ felt is one sensed intuitively, not one explained by a metaphor or diagram.
Fehmi Dogan and Nancy J. Nersessian, ‘Conceptual diagrams in creative architectural practice: the case of Daniel Libeskind’s Jewish Museum’, arq: Architectural Research Quarterly, vol.16, no.1 (March 2012), 15-37, (p. 15) 68 p. 19. 69 Daniel Libeskind: Jewish Museum Berlin, p. 38. 70 Daniel Libeskind: Jewish Museum Berlin, p. 58.
Notably, in a discussion of the Jewish Museum as a phenomenological building,
Libeskind’s decision not to allow visitors a ‘panoptic or panoramic overview of his edifice’ is
praised by Kasper Lӕgring Nielsen as allowing the architecture to be explored without preconceptions and premature interpretations. 71 The Jewish Museum does not have its own public
entrance; it is an extension to the Berlin Museum. There is no physical connection between the two buildings visible above ground; instead the Jewish Museum is approached through a subterranean corridor beginning in the old Berlin Museum building. When approaching the new building, therefore, a distinct form is not viewed before entering. Neither is the whole form
understood when viewing the building from any of the surrounding streets or outdoor spaces.
This results in allowing visitors to explore and connect with their experience of the building inside without having preconceptions formed in response to the exterior shape.
This is an architectural move that seems to be the exact reverse of that at the war
museum. The IWMN is encouraged by Libeskind to be understood by visitors in a very particular way – as a manifestation of his shattered globe concept. This understanding is
encouraged not only by the presentation of the shattered globe diagrams at each entrance; but by the approach to these entrances. The museum’s form is designed to be viewed from the
particular angle of the Trafford Road West entrance, and also viewed from across the river; both
views which emphasise the collision of the shards. These opportunities for an overview of the building, which were missing in the Jewish Museum, re-enforce the form’s shard metaphor, so
that the building is experienced with this preconception. However it may be argued that this
leaves little opportunity for visitors to feel a real connection and or personal response to the architecture.
This final observation appears to reiterate conclusions about the building made above;
that there is lack of meaning and resonance to aspects of the built reality as a result of the heavy focus on the building’s form.
Kasper Lӕgring Nielsen, ‘The Phenomenology of Daniel Libeskind’s Jewish Museum Berlin’ in Invitation to ArchiPhen, ed. by Iris Aravot and Eran Neuman (Bucharest: Zeta Books, 2010) 41-44, (p. 43).
The investigation of phenomenology in architecture included the work of Martin
Heidegger, whose philosophy explored the ability of physical interaction with ‘things’ to engage
people with their existence. 72 Heidegger explored the role of buildings as ‘things’ in an essay
entitled Building Dwelling Thinking, thus influencing architects and establishing a link between phenomenology and architecture. More recent interpretations of architectural phenomenology were explored; including Pallasmaa’s call for architecture that engages all of the senses. He criticises the visual dominance of modern architecture and the excess of imagery surrounding it.
It was shown that this view is shared by Dalibor Vesely, who argues visual dominance and a lack of shared meanings or references has disrupted the mediating role of architecture between people and their environment.
From this it was concluded that ‘phenomenological architecture’ could be understood as
that which engages people with their existence. It might be defined as pursuing shared
meanings and references to inform architectural design, in order to evoke an experience that
engages more than the visual sense. It was also noted that haptic or sensory qualities of architecture are important in allowing mediation between people and their understanding of the world.
Having established this as a loose definition for architectural phenomenology, the work
of Daniel Libeskind was investigated, with particular reference to his approach to architecture
and architectural theory. It was noted that Libeskind prizes the communicative role of architecture, and believes it should strive for universality; an idea supported by the thinking of
Vesely. Libeskind also advocates the importance of direct bodily encounter with architecture,
which is key aspect of phenomenological thinking. It was then shown that these
phenomenological ideas are successfully manifested in at least one of Libeskind’s buildings; the Jewish Museum in Berlin.
To determine the extent to which the Imperial War Museum is as successful as the
Jewish Museum, the architect’s intentions for the design and the role of the building were
analysed. It was shown that Libeskind intended to create a visually striking emblem for the city
of Manchester, on a considerably reduced budget, and that his resulting design was based upon
the concept of a shattered globe. Libeskind developed a dramatic form consisting of three ‘shards’. 72
Martin Heidegger, ‘The Thing’, in Poetry, Language, Thought, trans. by Albert Hofstadter (New York: HarperCollins/Perennial Classics, 2001), pp. 161-184.
To assess whether the design might be considered a phenomenological building, the
built reality of Libeskind’s ideas was analysed. The most successful of the design techniques used by Libeskind were found to be those aimed at disorientating and unnerving visitors,
including the inclining ‘Air Shard’ tower, which was found to be an emotive connection between sky and earth. However the situational meaning of the tower is undermined by the sense that it is an architectural trick employed by Libeskind before, at the Jewish Museum. The
disorientating curved floor of the main exhibition space at IWMN was found to be a more original feature, and one that seemed to have a phenomenological result in that it allowed visitors to sense an unsettling slope with their feet not their eyes; grounding experience in the body, as advocated by Pallasmaa.
What becomes clear, however, is that the tools used by Libeskind to produce a
meaningful, disorientating experience (sloping walls, floors, inclines and jagged lines) are let
down by the museum’s details. Artificial lighting aims to support the aesthetic themes of zig-
zags and shattered shards, but spaces lack the sensuality and meaning of natural daylight.
Materials were used for aesthetic and economic reasons – not combined or ‘choreographed’ for the experience of the body, as would likely have been the aim for phenomenological architect Peter Zumthor. Accordingly the disappointing sensory reality of the IWMN suggests it cannot be considered a piece of phenomenological architecture.
It was also established that architectural decisions made for economic reasons were
driven by Libeskind’s desire to ensure the museum was built, even on a halved budget, but also
that the over-arching theme of a shattered globe remained intact in the design. The importance
given to this metaphor, and the diagram that depicts it, suggests a meaning used almost as an alibi, or excuse, for the form. I argue that this hinders, or prevents, visitors from finding true meaning in their own experience of the building. The image seems to act as a flashy
advertisement for the architecture, of the exact type criticised by phenomenologists, leaving the Imperial War Museum North as a built logo for the regeneration of Trafford Park.
As a result I argue that the building cannot be described as a piece of phenomenological
architecture, despite attempts by the architect to provide a meaningful metaphor. Undue precedence placed on the building’s form and image, exacerbated further by budget cuts,
resulted in a striking landmark with a seeming lack of sensory atmosphere and a diminished quality of the details. I have found that the museum lacks the material and haptic qualities
associated with phenomenological architecture by its advocates, and produces token moments of disorientation while never fully articulating the notion of a shattered globe. A meaningful
bodily experience of the architecture, a key aspect of phenomenology, was not successfully manifested in the built reality.
Anderson, Hans-Christian, ‘War and Order: the Imperial War Museum North’, Museums Journal, vol. 102, no. 8 (August 2002), p.34
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