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.