Local BBC Sites

Page last updated at 15:46 GMT, Wednesday, 22 September 2010 16:46 UK
Climbing the Imperial War Museum in Trafford
Dr Jonathan Foyle (c) BBC/ITN Productions
The museum stands on the banks of the Manchester Ship Canal opposite The Lowry

A TV programme on architecture has offered a unique perspective on the Imperial War Museum North in Trafford.

As part of "Climbing Great Buildings," presenter Dr Jonathan Foyle scaled the 180 ft structure on the banks of the Manchester Ship Canal.

Commenting on the museum's striking design, Dr Foyle said there was 'nothing remotely like it in Britain.'

The landmark building featured in the final episode of the BBC Two series, shown on Tuesday 28 September 2010.


When the Imperial War Museum North opened in 2002, there was widespread acclaim for its striking yet fragmented look.

Climbers on Imperial War Museum North
The museum tells the experiences of people who have lived, fought and died in British conflicts.

Based on the pieces of a shattered globe, its architect Daniel Libeskind said he wanted it to reflect the serious nature of war with the three 'shards' representing conflict on earth, water and in the air.

The result is an iconic, aluminium clad structure whose jagged exterior houses a multi award-winning museum.

In the making of the series, architectural historian Dr Jonathan Foyle climbed some of the UK's best-known buildings to understand how construction and design has developed over the last 1,000 years.

But he said none were anything like Libeskind's unique structure in Greater Manchester.

"You can design most buildings on an Etch-a-Sketch but this one, there's hardly a rectangle in the place," he said.

Adding: "We've climbed many masonry buildings and you know what you're dealing with after a while.

"But this one, not only was it of sheer, sharp metal but it's all at a totally cranky angle.

"So it's very difficult to hold onto it because you're constantly swinging away from its diagonal faces.

"It was a bit a challenge to climb, I have to say."

'Cheese grater'

With his expert climbing partner Lucy Creamer, Dr Foyle ascended 180 feet (59 metres) to the museum's highest point, the top of the air shard.

There's nothing remotely like it in Britain, and I think that's a real stroke of genius in that the building becomes its own brand.
Dr Jonathan Foyle, architectural historian

Describing it as like a 'giant cheese grater', he said it was building that was deliberately disturbing and disorientating.

"Actually physically climbing it made the building much bigger than I thought it was," he said.

"What surprised me is that you don't immediately get a sense of the scale.

"It's 180 feet to the top of the air shard but, because there are no windows, there's nothing by which you can gauge it," he said.

Dr Foyle added that it was a building of "quite wonderful complexity" that was part-sculpture, part structure.

"The choice of aluminium makes it mechanistic, like modern warfare, but it's also very beautiful because the sun moves around it and keeps changing it," he said.

"After a while, climbing up the air shard, you look out across Manchester see the Peak District beyond that.

"It's incredible how you start off by the side of a canal and you end up seeing the hills 20 or 30 miles away. So it's ever changing."

Adding finally: "There's nothing remotely like it in Britain, and I think that's a real stroke of genius in that the building becomes its own brand."

You can watch the episode of Climbing Great Buildings featuring the Imperial War Museum North on the BBC iPlayer. until 6.59pm on Tue, 5 Oct 2010.




Sign in

BBC navigation

Copyright © 2017 BBC. The BBC is not responsible for the content of external sites. Read more.

This page is best viewed in an up-to-date web browser with style sheets (CSS) enabled. While you will be able to view the content of this page in your current browser, you will not be able to get the full visual experience. Please consider upgrading your browser software or enabling style sheets (CSS) if you are able to do so.

Americas Africa Europe Middle East South Asia Asia Pacific