19 Regency Street, London SW1P
David Cameron's virtue-signalling choice of site for a Holocaust Memorial was his second worst decision. The Westminster Society joined others you mention in opposition. We objected to the memorial's placement in Victoria Tower Gardens on the grounds of security risk and increased traffic congestion, as well as the overwhelming of a peaceful and beloved small park.
Our Biennial Award 2019 for Urban Design, for principled opposition to the siting of the memorial, was presented to Barbara Weiss, activist architect, Nina Grunfeld, community Leader, and Rowan Moore, architectural critic, citing them as follows:
BUILDING A U.K. HOLOCAUST MEMORIAL THAT EVOKES THE TRAGIC PAST AND WARNS ABOUT THE FUTURE WOULD BE A SUPERB ACHIEVEMENT, IF ON AN APPROPRIATE AND ADEQUATELY SPACIOUS SITE. WHEN THE SITE CHOSEN WAS THE SMALL, PROTECTED AND CHERISHED VICTORIA TOWER GARDENS, AND THE SELECTED DESIGN ENVISAGED A THEME PARK RATHER THAN A PROFOUND MEMORIAL, THE THREE RECIPIENTS OF THIS AWARD WERE LEADERS IN CONCERNED AND COGENT OPPOSITION TO IT. SOMETIMES THE HIGHEST CULTURAL OBLIGATION IS A DUTY TO OPPOSE, AND THEIRS MERITS ACCLAMATION.
Nathan Silver RIBA
Awards Committee, the Westminster Society
Comment on: Tributes paid to Maggie’s founder Charles Jencks
Charles Jencks and I met in 1968 over the discovery that we were both interested in making things out of other things. There wasn’t a name for that yet, but Charles soon supplied it: “adhocism,” just as he would later supply “postmodernism” as a catchy term for another design phenomenon.
We had both arrived in the UK from the USA a few years earlier, I to teach at Cambridge and he for a PhD at the University of London. As an outcome of our schmoozing I wrote an appreciative article for The New Statesman, where I was architecture critic.
In concept, adhocism described work of any kind that, with an expressive air of real or apparent improvisation, deliberately included the tried and true in some obvious way when creating the new. That’s a fair enough general definition. As card-carrying adhocists no. 1 and no. 2 we especially wanted to countervail the vulgar notion—decidedly prevalent at the time—that proper innovation was out of the blue originality, at its loveliest when it paid no attention to, or even reversed, what had come before. When my piece had some interested response from Statesman readers, we decided to collaborate on a book on the subject.
Adhocism: The Case for Improvisation, jointly authored, was published by Doubleday in 1972. Our co-authorship contributions were done in separate halves, roughly dividing between us architecture and design, and rashly ranging far beyond. The book received some mystified and a few appreciative reviews, won the praise of some disparate designers and artists, and subsequently went out of print. Four decades later (much to the authors’ surprise), The M I T Press declared an interest in publishing an expanded and updated edition. That happened in 2013.
When we last worked together while writing revisions and new material, Charles read my drafts and repeatedly challenged me to more fully explain my views about revivalism, design development, contextualism, design plagiarism. He was a most encouraging collaborative teacher, as well as the important architectural historian whose judgement and commentary will be well remembered. His vivacious intellect inspired thousands, including most influential architects and designers, whom he knew and challenged too. Charles's design histories with their always argumentative, usually persuasive tone, will triumphantly endure, of course. Late modernism lives. And adhocism lives!
A national Holocaust Memorial that is an evocative record of the tragic past and a permanent warning for the future would be a great idea. Unfortunately, this proposal's entire conception is to settle for a theme park.
The catastrophic choice of site was at the insistence of David Cameron, making the second lousiest decision of his premiership. The memorial design was not the outcome of the sort of wide competition that produced the brilliant Pompidou Centre and the Washington Vietnam Memorial, but from a selected shortlist judged by representative functionaries, which may explain why its design appears uninspiring and third rate.
The design submitted to Westminster planners introduces unacceptable turbulence in tranquil Victoria Tower Gardens, a supposedly protected Royal Park; it miscalculates the public space required for suitable use of a Holocaust Memorial, which should have a quiet and amply sized working library for scholars, as well as a learning centre for school crowds and visitors off tour busses; and it proposes to place an inevitable attraction to terrorism alongside our principal structures of government. The worst of it is that approval of this wretched scheme would tragically preclude a better-considered Holocaust Memorial on an appropriate site.
The decisive reason this proposal should be rejected by concerned planners is that it ignores Parliament's own likely future requirements in 10 to 50 years. The proposed expenditure of billions for the refurbishment of the Palace of Westminster has earmarked nothing for an adopted masterplan that should be considering enhancement to the entire parliamentary precinct, including, for example, how Victoria Tower Gardens might be enlarged by rerouted traffic and improved by pedestrianisation that could begin from Parliament Square. A masterplan, which every decent university and corporation undertakes, is vital to determining needs and connections and designing for the future. An approved masterplan should have self-evidently preceded a planning application like this.
Nathan Silver RIBA
When I was Head of the University of East London School of Architecture from 1979 to 1992 I appointed Christine Hawley as my deputy. I am proud that she went on to become my successor, and then Head of the Bartlett. Her example reinforces my commitment to full recognition for women in architecture such as Denise Scott Brown and Doriana Fuksas. Nathan Silver, Nathan Silver Architects
It's shocking that David Adjaye tries to characterise opposition to David Cameron's undiscussed and highly unsuitable choice of the memorial site to "holocaust denial." The many thoughtful and principled objectors (including park users and defenders, planning critics, councillors, MPs, the Westminster Society, and Jews like me) think there are far better sites than one that will eat an important small park, create impossible security and congestion problems, and probably dump for good the chance of a masterplan that could really make sense of improving the parliamentary precinct.
Our denial only concerns what is in every way a destructive choice of site. We shouldn't be surprised that it was from the leader who gave us Brexit.
Nathan Silver RIBA
Editor, TheWestminster Society newsletter