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.