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UK to Decide Holocaust Memorial Fate

Friday, November 8, 2019

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The contention continues around London’s proposed National Holocaust Memorial as the government decided earlier this week that Housing Minister Esther McVey would decide whether plans for the memorial will move forward or not.

Westminster Council was expected to determine the fate of the application instead.

While the U.K. Holocaust Memorial Foundation asked for the move, others are calling the decision to put the scheme up for federal decision a “power grab.”

The Project

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

The contention continues around London’s proposed National Holocaust Memorial as the government decided earlier this week that housing minister Esther McVey would decide whether plans for the memorial will move forward or not.

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.

“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 has 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 hundreds of 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.

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.

In August, London Mayor Sadiq Kahn called on the Westminster City Council 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.

In August, London Mayor Sadiq Kahn called on the Westminster City Council 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.

Moreover, some objectors to the memorial called the mayor’s words an interference of the democratic process.

Meanwhile, the Foundation co-chairs had written to the 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.”

What Now

Now, about two months after that “unfavorable recommendation” comment landed, the decision for the memorial has been taken out of the hands of Westminster Council, and put into the hand of the federal government (McVey).

Those who oppose the memorial note that this decision comes a month before parliament’s general election.

Ruth Deech, who is part of a group of Jewish peers opposed to the project, said: “It is insulting to use the start of an election campaign to hide this undemocratic power grab.

“I am also deeply suspicious of the overlap between Conservative Party fundraising and the backers of the project. The Jewish community has been steadily turning against this politicized project because there are much better ways to tackle antisemitism.”

A public inquiry will now be held and overseen by an independent planning inspector, which will then be reviewed by McVey who will make the final call on the project—if she remains housing minister after the election.

There is currently no timeline set for the inquiry.

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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