Holocaust memorial praised and panned

London's planned Holocaust memorial (above and left), designed by a team led by Ghanaian-British architect David Adjaye.
London's planned Holocaust memorial, designed by a team led by Ghanaian-British architect David Adjaye.PHOTOS: ADJAYE ASSOCIATES AND RON ARAD ARCHITECTS
London's planned Holocaust memorial (above and left), designed by a team led by Ghanaian-British architect David Adjaye.
London's planned Holocaust memorial, designed by a team led by Ghanaian-British architect David Adjaye.PHOTOS: ADJAYE ASSOCIATES AND RON ARAD ARCHITECTS

Fans of the upcoming project say it offers a powerful experience, but others say the site is unsuitable

LONDON • A team led by Mr David Adjaye, the Ghanaian-British architect behind the Smithsonian's National Museum of African American History and Culture in Washington, has won a competition to design a new Holocaust memorial in London.

The winning proposal envisages an elevated memorial site at Victoria Tower Gardens, a park near the Houses of Parliament, and an underground learning centre dedicated to the six million Jewish people killed in the Holocaust.

"The complexity of the Holocaust story, including the British context, is a series of layers that have become hidden by time," Mr Adjaye said in a statement.

"Our approach to the project has been to reveal these layers and not let them remain buried under history."

The design for the memorial features 23 bronze "fins" that jut out of the earth, with the spaces between them representing the 22 countries in which Jewish communities were devastated during the Holocaust.

A path through the structure leads visitors down narrow stairs to the exhibition space below ground.

An international competition for the design drew 92 submissions.

Mr Adjaye's team, which includes Israeli architect Ron Arad and landscape architecture company Gustafson Porter + Bowman, was unanimously selected by a jury that included the mayor of London, Mr Sadiq Khan; chief rabbi of Britain and the Commonwealth, Ephraim Mirvis; president of the National September 11 Memorial & Museum in New York, Ms Alice M. Greenwald; and Holocaust survivors.

Mr Peter Bazalgette, chairman of the UK Holocaust Memorial Foundation, was head of the jury.

In a news statement, he praised Mr Adjaye's team for creating an "emotionally powerful experience" and for its "understanding of the complexity of the Holocaust" and "desire to create a living place as well as a respectful memorial".

But the location of the project, which will receive £50 million (S$90 million) of public funding, has drawn criticism from neighbouring institutions, local residents and government officials.

This month, the Imperial War Museum, which is about 1.6km from the memorial's proposed site, called for a reconsideration of the plans for the education centre.

The museum expressed concern that the centre would compete with its own Holocaust gallery, due to open in 2020.

The plans for the memorial's learning centre include the recorded testimonies of 112 Holocaust survivors.

As well as commemorating the victims of the Holocaust and addressing anti-Semitism, the subterranean centre would also examine hatred and prejudice in other forms, including racism and Islamophobia.

This year, a letter was sent by critics of the plan to all members of the House of Lords, the Upper House of Parliament, saying that the gardens where the memorial is to be located would "cease to be an amenity for ordinary people" if it went ahead.

"The gardens are extensively used by residents, visitors to London and the many thousands who work nearby, including those working in the Palace of Westminster," the letter said.

"They are an oasis of calm, enjoyed as a place of exercise, play, picnics, sunbathing and dog walking."

Mr Peter Bottomley, a Conservative lawmaker who was a signatory to the letter, said in a telephone interview that while he supported the idea of a prominent memorial, he questioned the chosen site.

"If everyone saw the information, everyone would agree that the Imperial War Museum is the better proposal," he said, referring to his preferred location.

"If you combined the elements of both, that's a very good idea."

Citing security concerns and the impact on the park of additional visitors, he said he was calling for a review of how the site came to be selected.

The memorial is scheduled to open in 2021, although it has yet to receive approval from building regulators.

NYTIMES

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 28, 2017, with the headline 'Holocaust memorial praised and panned'. Print Edition | Subscribe