Controversy over Holocaust Memorial Continues


Designer Sir David Adjaye of Adjaye Associates is speaking out against criticism of his controversial designs for the Holocaust Memorial in Westminster.

Some have expressed disdain for the design claiming that it will disrupt the park setting of London’s historic Victoria Tower Gardens, which sits next to the House of Parliament. Adjaye says, however, that that’s the whole point.

Project Background

The team of Adjaye Associates and Ron Arad Architects was selected in October 2017 after the United Kington launched an international design competition that saw 92 entries. Ten esteemed finalists were chosen, including:

  • Allied Works with Ralph Appelbaum Associates, Robert Montgomery, OLIN and Lisa Strausfeld;
  • Caruso St John with Rachel Whiteread, Marcus Taylor, Vogt Landscape Architects, Arup Lighting Design and David Bonnett Associates;
  • Diamond Schmitt Architects with Martha Schwartz Partners and Ralph Appelbaum Associates;
  • Foster + Partners with Michal Rovner and Future\Pace, Local Projects, Avner Shalev, Simon Schama, Samantha Heywood, Tillotson Design Associates, David Bonnett Associates and Whybrow;
  • Heneghan Peng Architects with Gustafson Porter, Event, Bruce Mau Design, BuroHappold Engineering, Bartenbach and Duncan Boddy (PFB Construction);
  • John McAslan + Partners with MASS Design Group, DP9, London Communications Agency, Ralph Appelbaum Associates, Local Projects, Modus Operandi, JencksSquared and Lily Jencks Studio;
  • Lahdelma & Mahlamäki Architects with David Morley Architects, Ralph Appelbaum Associates and Hemgård Landscape Design;
  • Studio Libeskind with Haptic Architects, Martha Schwartz Partners, Lord Cultural Resources, BuroHappold Engineering, Alan Baxter, Garbers & James and James E. Young; and
  • Zaha Hadid Architects with Anish Kapoor, Event London, Sophie Walker Studio, Lord Cultural Resources, Arup Lighting Design, Whybrow and Access=Design.

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

“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

The design features 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.

“Each path eventually leads down into the threshold—a generous hall which acts as a place of contemplation and transition into the Learning Centre below ground. The learning center includes a ‘hall of testimonies’ and a ‘contemplation court’: a silent, reflective space with eight bronze panels. On leaving the memorial, the circulation route ensures visitors will emerge to see the classic uninterrupted view of Parliament—and the reality of democracy.”

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

Adjaye said the team wanted to create a monument that showed the complexities of the history.

“The complexity of the Holocaust story, including the British context, is a series of layers that have become hidden by time," he 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.”

What Now

The project received pushback from residents, saying it would destroy the park and would work better located by the Imperial War Museum in south London.

Adjaye had previously responded to those claims, saying that Holocaust deniers have “festered in the U.K.” and that it needs to be next to Parliament.

In a recent interview with The Times, Adjaye notes that the Garden already houses monuments to the abolition of slavery and women’s suffrage.

“We have the opportunity to activate the entire site and talk directly to [Parliament], hold it accountable,” he said. “Disrupting the pleasure of being in a park is key to the thinking.”

He goes on to say: “… this will use the Jewish experience as a lens—it addresses the bigger issue of intolerance. We live in splintered times. It would be nice to think that architecture can help us understand the issues we’re facing. Or at least make us think about them.”

The Architects’ Journal reports that Barbara Weiss, architect and member of the “Save Victoria Tower Gardens” campaign group has retorted saying that Adjaye’s comments are “staggeringly disingenuous” and notes that there’s no way the memorial’s estimated 1 million visitors a year won’t disrupt the park.

Adjaye has said that despite protests, he’s sticking to the plan.

The monument has a completion date of 2021 and will use 50 million pounds ($66.2 million) of public money for funding.


Tagged categories: Aesthetics; Design; EMEA (Europe, Middle East and Africa); Good Technical Practice; Monuments; Public spaces

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