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David Adjaye says ‘disrupting’ the park is key to his Holocaust memorial thinking

David adjaye (c)ed reeve

David Adjaye has infuriated opponents of his controversial Holocaust Memorial in Westminster by arguing that ‘disrupting’ the pleasure of being in a park is key to its thinking 

The project, designed by Adjaye Associates and Ron Arad Architects, has faced criticism from local residents because it will involve building on Victoria Tower Gardens, a small park near the Houses of Parliament.

The planning application, which Westminster Council is considering, has already attracted a deluge of objections over fears the memorial and subterranean learning centre will involve the removal of mature plane trees and destroy the borough’s ‘green lung’. 

But defending the project in The Times, Adjaye said he was ‘excited’ about the site, which he said had already been turned into a ‘memorial garden’ with monuments to the abolition of slavery and women’s suffrage.  

‘We have the opportunity to activate the entire site and talk directly to parliament, hold it accountable,’ he said. ‘Disrupting the pleasure of being in a park is key to the thinking.’

Adjaye also said the Jewish community had not been ‘keen on being seen’ for the last 70 years. ‘They’ve looked for invisibility and integration. So there’s a real fear of being put front and centre. That’s normal.

‘But this will use the Jewish experience as a lens – it addresses the bigger issue of intolerance. We live in splintered times. It would be nice to think that architecture can help us understand the issues we’re facing. Or at least make us think about them.’

The architect’s comments have sparked a backlash from campaigners fighting the government-backed UK Holocaust Memorial Foundation’s (UKHM) plans.

Barbara Weiss, architect and member of the Save Victoria Tower Gardens campaign group, said the comments on the park were ’staggeringly disingenuous’.

‘The UKHM Foundation has gone overboard over the past two years in trying to make us believe that the park will remain the peaceful oasis that we all treasure, despite the anticipated 1 million visitors per annum, and a 10m mound with jagged bronze fins.’

And the row shows no sign of abating, with Adjaye telling The Times: ‘If people want to protest, they should protest, but, you know, I’m just not very good at walking away.’ 

A UK Holocaust Memorial Foundation spokesman said:

The United Kingdom Holocaust Memorial will honour and remember all victims and survivors of the Holocaust and subsequent genocides and educate future generations on the importance of fighting prejudice and persecution in all its forms.

We have always been clear – as Sir David Adjaye reiterates - that the proposed Memorial and Learning Centre will provoke and challenge visitors to think about the impact of the Holocaust on our society, culture and Parliament.

But these aims are compatible with enhancing the character of the Gardens for residents and visitors alike. The plans retain 93% of the open public space, improve views over Parliament and the river Thames, providing better accessible seating and a new boardwalk along the embankment. The plan also shows proper respect to the existing monuments to freedom and responsibility.


Readers' comments (5)

  • Unfortunately, the architect's comments do not stand up. It is not a question of disturbing people's thoughts whilst they are in a green space , as this particular memorial could well prevent access to tat space by requiring tight security, possibly security fencing, traffic and queue controls, maybe extra policing, the removal of some of the greenery, as well as shifting an anti-slavery memorial. A sledgehammer to crack a nut.

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  • Well, this is all becoming very interesting. Well done David for asking such contrary questions. Upsetting the powers that be and risking the project? Wire fencing and extra security with oppressed people inside queueing for nothing? Daring to move a memorial to slavery? Speaking freely? What next? Do we really need all these monuments?

    It is important how Jewish people see all this. Survivors and descendants, and those that want nothing to do with it. Perhaps London, it’s people and the Kindertransport are the only memorials needed? Well done Mr Architect for making everyone think and reassess?

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  • Victoria Tower Gardens seem already to be suffering from being treated as a convenient bit of spare land in which to deposit things - at the wider north end, between the monument to Emmeline Pankhurst and the river, the Gardens appear to have been gnawed away to create the sedum-roofed linear 'barrier' building apparently housing parliamentary visitors' facilities (possibly illustrated in the AJ, though I can't remember it)
    This building also serves to inadequately screen the mess behind, adjoining Black Rod's garden, and the cynical among us might see this as a fair representation of what's going on within Parliament just now, as well as displaying contempt for the integrity of the gardens. Adjaye isn't alone in causing disruption to the park.

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  • Adjaye's proposal is a rude, disrespectful and unnecessarily large intrusion into a valuable and welcome, though small, green lung lining the River Thames. A more discreet, simpler, sensitive and therefore appreciated proposal would perhaps have been more suitable , and representative of the sensitive nature of the Jewish people. Rethink, please!

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  • Nathan Silver

    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

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