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Adjaye on Holocaust memorial flood risk: 'We've designed a submarine'

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David Adjaye has played down fears his competition-winning National Holocaust Memorial scheme, earmarked for a riverside plot next to the Houses of Parliament, could flood

Adjaye’s mainly subterranean design for Victoria Tower Gardens was unanimously chosen from stellar shortlist of practices which included John McAslan, Foster + Partners, Daniel Libeskind, Zaha Hadid Architects and Caruso St John.

The choice of the Thamesside plot for the £50 million structure had been previously questioned by Conservative MP Edward Leigh, who warned the gardens were too small, prone to flooding and faced ‘serious drainage problems’. Architecture critic Joseph Rykwert raised similar concerns (see AJ 15.02.17). 

But, when asked about what the team had done to mitigate against water damage, Adjaye told the press at a special event to announce the selection at the V&A yesterday: ’[Given the building is mainly underground] we have been very careful about the retaining walls and tanking.

’The building is more like a submarine. But it is absolutely something we can do.’

Other concerns about the project were addressed by the design team and Peter Bazalgette, the competition jury chair. In response to a question about recent complaints from the Imperial War Museum’s (IWM) that the new memorial would compete with its own exhibitions less than a mile away at Kennington and ‘divide the public offer’ on learning about the Holocaust, Bazalgette replied: ’[The IWM’s] exhibition story is set within the context of the Second World War.

’This Holocaust memorial should be read in the context of today. It will also work [and connect] with all of the [other] holocaust institutions.’

Bazalgette, who chairs the United Kingdom Holocaust Memorial Foundation, added that he intended to meet with the IWM in the next few days to discuss how the two memorials could complement one another, adding: ’I’m confident we’ll work together.’

Addressing objections from local residents, who joined with MPs earlier in the year to complain about the loss of green space and requirement for extra security, Bazalgette said there would be extensive public consultation with neighbours, Westminster City Council, Historic England and The Royal Parks.

He added: ’Everybody’s voice will be heard. I’m confident that at the end of it everyone will be satisfied’.

However, Adjaye’s appointment prompted the Save Victoria Tower Gardens Campaign, co-founded by architect Barbara Weiss, to reiterate ‘its firm opposition to the use of this small, precious Royal Park as the location for this major public project’.

A spokesperson for the campaigners said: ’While the purpose of the memorial and learning centre is to unite the country in its condemnation of the Holocaust atrocities and discrimination, this project has, to the contrary, attracted much opposition and criticism with respect to the negative impacts on Victoria Tower Gardens.

’The intervention [here], particularly of the underground learning centre with its associated servicing, security and crowd control, will cause much damage to this delicate, green swathe so close to the Palace of Westminster.’

They added: ’The duplication of the learning centre with the world-renowned Holocaust Galleries and programme at IWM, less than a mile away, has been highlighted by numerous parties; and the pervasive lack of democratic consultation in the whole decision-making process generally is much regretted.’

 The proposed centre is scheduled to open in 2021.

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