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More Debate Surrounds London Holocaust Memorial

Monday, August 19, 2019

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Officials on all sides are speaking out again—both for and against—London’s proposed National Holocaust Memorial.

London Mayor Sadiq Kahn called on the Westminster City Council last week to approve the plans, which came a week after documents were uncovered that showed U.K. Holocaust Memorial Foundation co-chairs expressing misgivings about the planning process.

Some Background

The team of David Adjaye (Adjaye Associates) and Ron Arad Architects was selected to design the memorial in October 2017 after the United Kington launched an international design competition that saw 92 entries.

According to officials, the 13-person jury chose the Adjaye project unanimously.

Images: U.K. Holocaust Memorial Foundation

London Mayor Sadiq Kahn called on the Westminster City Council last week to approve the plans, which came a week after documents were uncovered that showed U.K. Holocaust Memorial Foundation co-chairs expressing misgivings about the planning process.

“The jury was unanimous in awarding this competition to Sir David Adjaye and his highly skilled and passionate team,” said Sir Peter Bazalgette, Chair of the U.K. Holocaust Memorial Foundation and the competition jury.

The design featured 23 tall bronze fins with the 22 spaces in between them representing the 22 countries in which Jewish communities were devastated during the Holocaust.

“Entering the Memorial will be a sensory experience,” the firm’s design description notes. “While the outside and inside space emphasizes collective gathering, the 23 bronze fins require the visitor to enter in solitude and isolation, providing a highly individual pathway and experience.”

“The complexity of the Holocaust story, including the British context, is a series of layers that have become hidden by time," Adjaye explained. "Our approach to the project has been to reveal these layers and not let them remain buried under history. To do so, we wanted to create a living place, not just a monument to something of the past. We wanted to orchestrate an experience that reminds us of the fragility and constant strife for a more equitable world.”

But since then, the design had been met with strong criticism about its location, size and overall appearance.

Adjaye spoke to The Times about the location critique, noting that there are already two memorials in the park and stressing the importance of having the monument near Parliament.

Groups opposed to the decision, including the city’s Royal Parks Authority, claim that it will disrupt the garden.

According to the Architects’ Journal, the Royal Parks objection letter read: “Overall the somber nature of the memorial, the large structure and the necessary security measures around the curtilage of the Victoria Tower Gardens will change the nature of what is currently a relaxed park alongside a unique riverside location.”

There have reportedly been more than 500 objections officially lodged.

In early May, design changes were made to the memorial. While the overall design with the bronze fins remains intact, a few tweaks have been made to give the outer appearance some subtlety.

In early May, design changes were made to the memorial. While the overall design with the bronze fins remains intact, a few tweaks have been made to give the outer appearance some subtlety.

The revised design includes:

  • Changes to the entrance, making it lighter and more transparent;
  • Changes to the roofline to ensure better views across and around the structure; and
  • Changes to the courtyard to make the space more intuitive and inclusive.

The revisions reportedly also adjust construction and excavation to improve logistics on the site.

What Now

Some objectors to the memorial are calling the mayor’s words an interference of the democratic process.

Architect Barbara Weiss, co-founder of the Save Victoria Tower Gardens campaign, says Kahn’s letter was an “absolute disgrace.”

“It’s interfering with the [planning] process, which is a democratic process,” she said. “If you imagine this being a court case, you can’t have people from above telling you how to make a judgement.”

Meanwhile, the Foundation co-chairs had written to council looking at the weight that’s being given to the number of objections to the project.

Westminster Council leader Nickie Aiken had responded saying that the application seemed to be heading to an “unfavorable recommendation.”

Now, Kahn says in his letter to the council and Aiken that the memorial would be a “fitting tribute to the victims of the Holocaust.”

“It will show our commitment to fighting extremism and intolerance in all forms and make a powerful national statement about our democracy [and] its values, reminding us what can happen when hatred is left unchecked.”

A council spokesperson has reiterated that no decision has been made.

The monument still has an estimated completion date of 2021, and is a 100-million-pound (roughly $130 million) government-backed project.

   

Tagged categories: EMEA (Europe, Middle East and Africa); EU; Good Technical Practice; Government; Public spaces; Upcoming projects

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