Imperial War Museum

Imperial War Museum

Esin Huseyin Header

Posted 04/09/14
By Esin Huseyin


For me, this is the first museum post I’m attempting to write on the site. I’m both excited and nervous, considering that the Imperial War Museum is one of my most favourite places to hang out – it was absolutely heartbreaking that they closed down for refurbishment.

But, they opened their doors recently, and I thought it was about time to see what they had done with the place. I walked in all dewy eyed, waiting to be amazed…

When you first walk in, the huge open atrium is now; higher, but some what darker and more “intimate” – they’ve inserted these metal boards to almost break up the space. There were the V1 and V2 rockets like before, but not as many tanks, which for me was totally gutting.

There were a few new pieces like a foreign press truck, as well as a car that had been completely wrangled by a suicide bomber in Iraq – glad to see that they’ve updated a few pieces, but at the expense of quite a few others.

The other galleries were all on the higher levels, which all looked out on to the atrium, there were certain pieces like torpedos and boats that hung out from the sides – it was pretty good, gave you a little taster of what to expect later on in the museum.

Now as you walk down the stairs in to the main atrium, the First World War exhibition is on your left – but, it was ridiculously busy that day so we were allocated a time, annoyingly we’ll have to wait. So we took the set of stairs up to the exhibitions that explained everything prior to World War II.

Now, all of the interesting machinery and videos were there – some were even completely new. But, I soon realised as I made my way through the floors that I completely detested the new layout. You would walk past 5/6 items then come to a board and read all about them, straining to see some of the smaller details that the board was explaining. Then you would walk past another 5/6 items and there would be another collective board. This for me seemed like a ridiculous idea, not only did you find yourself missing vital information, but you ended up waiting forever for people to finish reading everything on the board – to me, it feels more natural, and easier to control a natural flow of people by having an explanation for each piece.

Due to the business of the museum on this particular day, the build up was pretty substantial – the boards were even located in areas which you needed empty so that you could walk to the next area. It genuinely grew pretty annoying having to wait to read a few lines, then having to weave through people that were still reading whilst making sure your bum didn’t graze a torpedo.

Other than that it was great; they utilised video, art, artifacts, and even photographs to help create not only an idea of the world at that time, but to help add faces to the story.

Once you finished one half of the floor, you had to either walk through a gift shop to get back out in to the atrium to make your way around again, or you would have to weave your way through the floor again to get back to the other side. There was space behind the exhibition floor to walk without annoying other people, and yourself, but for some unknown reason it just annoyed me. I felt like there wasn’t a steady flow.

Taking the Hogwarts style stairs upstairs to the galleries above, did show me that some of the newer exhibitions did have the same layout. But, I got the chance to explore one of the temporary galleries; Truth & Memory: British Art of the First World War. Now, I had been to The Great War in portraits, at the National Gallery, and a lot of the pieces crossed over – but I came across an incredible set of etchings by Percy Delf Smith. These etchings were from the The Dance of Death collection, and they pictured death looming over the men on the front line, these slightly informal style of drawing really sent out a strong message about how the men have felt – they had no control over their futures, it was pretty bleak to look at.

There were a few familiar faces like Secret Wars; which had a bit of a face lift, and in some senses more aimed for kids. It had a “debrief” video which set the scene for all the spy gadgets we’d witness within. The holocaust exhibition was still in the same location, it was completely untouched which I’m glad of. For me, that exhibition is by far the most educating, yet chilling exhibition I’ve ever been to (I don’t like to give too much away).

The new First World War gallery was amazing – everything had it’s own information. There were new high tech projectors, screens, and touch screens to bring sub-stories to life. There was a mixture of life on the front line, as well as life at home, and life around the rest of the world during this time. The bomb shelter installation has been replaced with another “trench” like area; sounds, projections, a large tank, and even smells have been added to create the illusion of where you are.

I haven’t given too much away because I think you should all go and see it for yourselves, you may even learn a thing or two. Overall, I can live with the redesign, but I can’t help but feel like it’s a way to create more of a foot-fall in the gift shops that I felt like were on every floor. Either way, I love history, and war is a huge part of that, so it’ll always be somewhere I’ll come back.

What do you think of the redesign? What’s your favourite exhibitions? Is there another war based museum you think I should head to? Let me know in the comments below.

  • Good review. I visited only yesterday after a hiatus of several years and can’t say I was overly impressed with new layout. I completely agree that the idea of having to locate the boards to find out about the exhibits was not great; the whole layout felt somewhat chaotic. Still a great museum, but missing a few classics (yes tanks, and what happened to the rocket in the entrance hall?) and not the best redesign.

  • Glad I’m not the only one! I genuinely felt super disappointed as it was one of my favourite museums in London. I felt a little bad for being a little negative, but I’m hoping they’ll take on board the feedback. Have you read all of the negative reviews on Google? Awkward.