The chair of the UK Holocaust Memorial Foundation, TV executive Peter Bazalgette, explains why the £50 million competition will deliver a ‘logical and harmonious addition’ to Victoria Tower Gardens
Why is a national Holocaust memorial needed?
This is the last chance for Britain’s Holocaust survivors to witness the establishment of a fitting new national memorial. It shows them that as a nation we are serious in our commitment to remember the Holocaust, but also that we will do all we can to stand up against all forms of hatred and prejudice in the future.
It is so important that we always remember the Holocaust, out of respect for all those who suffered, but also as a warning about how enlightened societies can plummet into the deepest abyss of moral depravity. It teaches us about the need for vigilance, at all times, in defence of inclusive and participatory democracy.
Why is Victoria Tower Gardens the most appropriate location?
There is no better location than Victoria Tower Gardens, alongside Parliament, to make such a powerful statement.
The prime minister’s Holocaust Commission, which received nearly 2,500 responses to its call for evidence, reported that there was widespread dissatisfaction with the current memorial in Hyde Park. It was not widely known about; felt to be hidden out of sight; with no context or information; and standing on its own it doesn’t provide visitors any opportunity to learn more.
The design challenge is to create a sensitively designed memorial that is relevant to people today
The strength of feeling on this was very clear, particularly from many Holocaust survivors, which is why we’re so proud and pleased to have launched an international design competition.
The design challenge now is to create a sensitively designed memorial and learning centre that is relevant to people today and for generations to come.
Source: Image by Pam Fray
How will the memorial differ from others already constructed around the world?
The memorial will honour the victims of the Holocaust and all victims of Nazi persecution, with a distinctive focus on the importance of the Holocaust to the United Kingdom’s history. The learning centre will highlight the Holocaust’s contemporary relevance; and it will advance Holocaust education across the United Kingdom.
Within the learning centre we will be featuring British stories that engage visitors with the testimonies of survivors and the liberators who discovered Bergen Belsen and began the relief effort. Many of these people are speaking for the first time in over 70 years and their compelling testimonies provide a powerful reminder of why it is so important to understand the enormity of the Holocaust and the breakdown of society that made it possible, so as to warn future generations that it must never happen again.
How will the memorial, and potential learning centre, relate to existing monuments within the gardens and to the Palace of Westminster?
Victoria Tower Gardens has one of the most recognisable backdrops in the world, framed on two sides by the River Thames and the Palace of Westminster. It is an iconic location in the heart of British democracy, and the memorials already in the gardens can be viewed as a physical representation of the United Kingdom’s conscience and values.
Victoria Tower Gardens
Source: Image by Patche99z
The Buxton Memorial celebrates the abolition of slavery, the statue of Emmeline Pankhurst represents the fight for universal suffrage, and the Burghers of Calais encourages people to reflect on civic sacrifice.
A contemporary addition includes the new Parliamentary Education Centre, opened in 2015, which aims to inspire and connect young people with parliament and democracy.
It’s vital that shortlisted teams’ designs address the sensitivities of the historic, political and national importance of the exceptional setting in one of the most visited and recognisable parts of London.
We know that Victoria Tower Gardens is a much-loved green space. We’ve made it clear to all architects, designers and artists who might be interested in the project that the new national memorial and possible learning centre should be a logical and harmonious addition to the existing memorials in the gardens and that the establishment of a new memorial and learning centre provides a chance to develop the green space, with funding for landscaping and place-making included in the project.
Victoria Tower Garden’s location alongside the Thames also provides a unique opportunity for designers to consider river views from both banks of the Thames.
If a below-ground learning centre is unfeasible in the location could it be constructed somewhere else nearby?
The Holocaust Commission was absolutely clear that the most effective way to deliver the educational benefits of the memorial was to include on-site learning – a space where people can instantly go to gain a deeper understanding of what happened and what it means for us in Britain today.
Following an extensive search of potential sites across London and a detailed analysis of Victoria Tower Gardens, the foundation has formally recommended to government that such a learning centre should indeed be co-located (below ground) with the national memorial in Victoria Tower Gardens.
Achieving this goal is the focus of the foundation.
What sort of architects are you hoping will apply?
The government has launched an international design competition in order to encourage the best designers, architects and artists from across the world – the competition website having already attracted visitors from over 100 countries – to create an outstanding and ambitious memorial and learning centre in the heart of Britain’s democracy, which provides visitors with spaces to reflect, and opportunities to deepen their understanding of humanity’s darkest hour.
We are encouraging emerging as well as established architects to express their interest in the project. We’re looking for talented teams who connect with the project’s values and can engage visitors in reflecting on the Holocaust and learning more about that time in history. We anticipate some truly creative collaborations between architects, designers and artists.
Source: Image by Malcolm Reading Consultants and Emily Whitfield Wicks