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Adjaye and Arad’s ‘eleventh-hour’ holocaust memorial redesign fails to silence critics


Adjaye Associates and Ron Arad Architects have revealed images of the redesigned Holocaust Memorial – but the scaled-down proposals have not placated the project’s critics 

The architects went back to the drawing board on the £100 million government-backed project following criticism from heritage groups and local residents over its impact on Victoria Tower Gardens.

The design team has now submitted amendments to Westminster Council, a rethink that retains the memorial’s 23 bronze fins but completely reimagines the entrance pavilion.

View from Millbank in original planning application (slide right) and revised (slide left)

However, the scheme’s many critics remain unconvinced. Heritage watchdog Historic England said while the pavilion was a ‘better design’ it ‘did not fundamentally change the scale of the memorial’ nor its impact on the site. The Royal Parks said its main concerns had also not been addressed (see bottom). 

The redesign sees the original boxy entrance pavilion replaced with a ‘lighter, more transparent’ structure. In a design statement lodged with planners, the architects describe it as a ‘more congenial building’ comprised of a series of ‘spaced stone columns’.

Changes also include a 213m² reduction in the size of the underground learning centre’s basement footprint and ‘simpler and more intuitive’ layout for the memorial courtyard garden.

In addition, the mezzanine level has been extended by 213m², a move leading to the repositioning of the feature staircase and a skylight.

Reacting to the new proposals, a spokesperson for Historic England said: ‘Introducing a series of large structures to the Grade II-registered park would fundamentally change its character.

‘The proposals would also have a detrimental impact on the significance of the Grade II*-listed Buxton Memorial by encroaching on its setting and diminishing its prominence.’

The ‘chaotic, piecemeal and expensive’ redesign has only made things worse

Barbara Weiss, an architect and member of the Save Victoria Tower Gardens campaign group, said the ’chaotic, piecemeal and expensive’ redesign had only made things worse.

She added: ‘The eleventh-hour changes underline how the whole project has been beset by confused architectural thinking. That is displayed in the folly of deep tree root investigations being carried out only now – after this scheme has been resubmitted.’

The project’s backer, the UK Holocaust Memorial Foundation, has so far not commented publicly on the redesign.

However in a planning statement sent to Westminster Council, the applicant defends the project’s design against criticism that the memorial fins, the courtyard and the pavilion ‘lack a relationship to each other’.

It wrote: ‘The competition-winning design was selected primarily on the merit that all elements were seamlessly woven, both physically and conceptually, into each other and the wider context of Victoria Tower Gardens.’

It adds: ’We therefore contend that the proposed design concept is exceptionally well-considered’.

In addition to high-profile objections from the UK branch of Icomos (the International Council on Monuments and Sites) and The Royal Parks, the scheme has also received many letters of support.

A letter signed by 174 MPs and peers has backed the memorial, included Kindertransport refugee and Labour peer Alf Dubs and Luciana Berger, the Jewish MP for Liverpool Wavertree.

London mayor Sadiq Khan has also thrown his weight behind the proposals, saying he was ‘deeply concerned’ at the prospect that it could be rejected.

UK Holocaust memorial charities the Holocaust Educational Trust and Holocaust Memorial Day Trust have also backed the project, while a letter of support has been sent by rabbis of nine Westminster synagogues. 

The UK Holocaust Memorial Foundation has been approached for comment.

Comment from The Royal Parks

We fully support the principle of building a new Holocaust Memorial and Learning Centre, and agree with the rationale for doing so. However, as the charity managing Victoria Tower Gardens, our role is to ensure that the intrinsic qualities of this green space are protected for the benefit of all our visitors and, having studied the planning application in detail, we feel strongly that this is not the right location for it.

It is not clear the revised designs will significantly reduce the impact on this much-loved space

From the evidence available it is not clear that the revised designs will significantly reduce the impact that the proposed structure will have on this much-loved public amenity space, in an area of central London with few public parks, which is significant.

Around 1.5m visitors a year currently use Victoria Tower Gardens as a place for relaxation and recreation. We believe that the scale of the proposed building, and the congestion that the anticipated additional 1m visitors will bring in its first year of operation will dramatically change the park’s relaxed atmosphere and ambience. It could also permanently damage the major trees that border the park and negatively impact the biodiversity of the space. We estimate that up to 15 per cent of the park’s open space could be lost for ever.


Readers' comments (11)

  • It is not a happy situation when a serious cultural and symbolic building starts being redesigned as though it were a speculative office proposal, being changed in response to comments from organisations with different perspectives. Either the original design was of an integrity that deserved complete support or it wasn't. The fact that the designers are prepared to compromise is not encouraging. Why can't we accept that, in retrospect, this was not the best choice of site? Having done so, pick a new one and ask the designers to do exactly what they feel is right and give them 100 per cent backing. The project is far more important than the location.

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  • Susan James

    They can redesign all they like. The building is in the wrong place and I think the architects should be saying this not pressing ahead with alternatives designs.

    Sue James

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  • What are architects and artists for?
    The controversy over David Adjaye and Ron Arad’s winning holocaust memorial proposal exposes a huge flaw in the procurement process that could have been avoided had the jury had more light in the design and art spectrum of experience. All entrants (me being one of them in the team with Rachel Whiteread and Caruso St John) submitted proposals in good faith specific to the site offered and attempted to address the legitimate concern of dominating a small park in central London. Art cannot be designed by committee. Chose a new site and rerun the competition.

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  • However admirable the design or redesign may be, it's simply the wrong location , the proposal is simply out of scale with such a delightful small park , " we need nature , it does not need us "

    John Edward Meagher , deBM .

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  • MacKenzie Architects

    I suspect that this is the future for all such public-domain commissions, public, charitable and private. The great and good decide something should be built, prepare a lazy brief for probably the wrong site; don't check out key stakeholders, desert the winning design, and then vacate the debating area to the doubters and self-important.

    It might be a good idea to reduce a tonne of funding to a lot of Quangos, so they stick to their fundamental terms of reference.

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  • I see a children's play sculpture, like the one in front of the National Theatre. Is that sensitive as a Holocaust memorial?
    Peter Bibby

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  • No matter how many redesigns are made, the basic problem has not been addressed - the message clearly has not been received or is being deliberately ignored: why is a valuable public open space of limited size being allowed to be seized for development? A holocaust memorial is certainly a worthy cause, but the location is entirely wrong.

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  • A Hundred Million Pounds?
    Am I reading that right?

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  • Come on, Mr Goulty - that's not much more than twice the sum blown by our politicians, on our behalf, on the priceless garden bridge project, not that far away from the Victoria Tower Gardens.
    Peanuts to the 'great and the good', especially when it's not their money at stake, just their intended glory.

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  • The proposed Holocaust Memorial outside the Houses of Parliament continues in the great tradition that the representation of this catastrophe is best achieved through designs that use the media of architecture and sculpture to express its full horror. (I should make it clear that the subject here is that of Memorials rather than Museums)

    I believe that this approach never achieves its aim, and never comes anywhere near making the observer fully confront the unique aspect of the Holocaust, which was the systematic, fully planned and state-run murder of six million people, achieved by the use of industrial methods.

    If you google Images of Holocaust Memorials you will find a mix of failed attempts to embody, abstract, dramatise or symbolise the sheer scale of the horror. On display are mainly self-consciously arty monuments that offer mixed messages (tragedy being redeemed by contrition; representations of religious iconography and of victims or those who survived). The results are always kitch, and the memorials are commonly misused as settings for holiday snaps, selfies and so on, or as unofficial playgrounds

    I have always felt that the Holocaust defeats attempts at creative interventions in any media. The plain facts, the history (in documentaries and memoirs for example) are always more powerful than any kind of fiction.

    On a Holocaust Memorial Day a number of years ago, when I was a member of a creative writing group, our moderator set us the task of writing a Holocaust poem, for the following session. I felt uncomfortable approaching the subject, so instead of a poem I made a graphic representation of 60,000 dots on an A3 sheet - that’s a Premier League Football Stadium crowd, for comparison. Then I made another sheet showing one hundred rectangles each representing a figure of 60,000. What this does is to show the staggering enormity of the Holocaust, which is otherwise virtually impossible to imagine.

    One way of making a Memorial worthy of this task would have a display of six million short grey pegs (for instance) on a black floor, set out randomly but with space around each. The enclosure would be a rectangular black box hall, severe and minimal, and free of architectural manipulations of form, space light, materials or other devices, there would be no attempt to beautify or dramatise the display. Circulation would be round the periphery of the installation. The temperature inside the hall would be perceptibly colder than outside.

    I have made these suggestions because I feel that the whole set up for the project is misconceived, and will result in a ‘Holocaust Experience’ which ticks all the right boxes at the expense of confronting the essential monstrous truth: under the Final Solution policy the Nazis murdered six million men, women and children.

    David Adjaye is an original, courageous architect whose work is always challenging and controversial. This time, however, in attempting to follow a bad brief, he has produced two proposals that lack any kind of conviction or integration.

    Start agin - new brief,new site.

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