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Imperial War Museum calls for rethink of Holocaust Memorial plans

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The Imperial War Museum (IWM) has urged the government to reconsider the planned £40 million Holocaust Memorial as it unveils plans for its own Holocaust gallery space 

The museum said the proposed memorial in Victoria Tower Gardens next to the Palace of Westminster, would ‘divide the public offer’ on learning about the Holocaust.

The IWM’s comments come after it revealed new plans by Dannatt Johnson Associates for the expansion of its current Holocaust Galleries last month, when Prince William attended a launch event unveiling the proposals. 

Diane Lees, director-general at the IWM, said: ’Our ground-breaking new galleries and digitally enabled learning suite will allow us to transform the way we present the Second World War and the Holocaust and, through our new narrative, enable visitors to engage with events that may be less well understood and known to them.’

’We urge the reconsideration of the creation of the UK Holocaust Memorial Foundation’s learning centre at Victoria Tower Gardens, [which is] less than a mile away from us, as it will very much divide the public offer on learning about the Holocaust,’ she added. The IWM’s plans are expected to complete in 2020. 

The IWM’s proposed £33.5 million scheme, set to complete in 2020, will, the museum says, see the ’creation of spectacular new Second World War and Holocaust Galleries’, and the creation of a ’digitally enabled’ learning centre across two levels of the museum. Dannatt Johnson Associates will work as part of a team, also including exhibition designers Ralph Appelbaum Associates and Casson Mann.

Meanwhile, the AJ understands that the winner of the competition for the new memorial scheme, which features a 2,650m² subterranean learning centre, will be announced this month, following presentations to the jury in September. 

Some of architecture’s biggest names, including David Adjaye, Zaha Hadid Architects and Norman Foster, are vying for the £40 million project to honour those who suffered under Nazi persecution.

Barbara Weiss, co-founder of Save Victoria Tower Gardens, which is calling on the government to reconsider the site for the memorial, said: ’Our argument is purely one of the fact that we don’t approve of building in parks generally. It’s nothing to do with the Holocaust Memorial, we would have opposed absolutely anything that was proposed for the park.’

Weiss, whose father fled to the UK as an Italian Jewish refugee in 1939, added that the shortlisted proposals were mostly ‘overscale and bling’.

She said she would have preferred a memorial similar to Louis’ Khan’s ’unbelievably powerful’ Four Freedoms Park Roosevelt memorial, which is also on a triangular site, on Roosevelt Island in New York. She said ’Why can’t they do something that is minimally powerful, rather than something that is bling and off-putting?’

Why can’t they do something that is minimally powerful, rather than something that is bling and off-putting?

Responding to IWM’s statement, chair of the UK Holocaust Memorial Foundation Peter Bazalgette, has said that does not see a conflict between the plans and that he wants the two bodies to work together.

Bazalgette said: ’Standing in the shadow of our Parliament, the new Holocaust Memorial and learning centre will become an internationally-recognised symbol against hatred. Its Learning Centre will use the stories of the Holocaust to explore Antisemitism, extremism, Islamophobia, homophobia and other forms of hatred and prejudice in society today.’

He added: ’As the Imperial War Museum has previously agreed, the learning centre and the IWM galleries have different remits, with distinct yet complementary objectives. We see no reason why the two cannot continue to work together and hope they will reconsider a collaborative approach.’

Sajid Javid, secretary of state for the Department for Communities and Local Government, which is funding the Holocaust Memorial Foundation, said: ’The Imperial War Museum’s new Galleries and the new learning centre will have complementary aims and can collaborate to offer visitors expert and engaging experiences, helping us all to consider the lessons of the Holocaust for future generations.’

The IWM’s statement against the memorial is the latest in a series of criticisms of the major project, which was first announced by the then prime minister David Cameron in 2013. 

In February, Tory MP Edward Leigh hit out over the proposed site of the new UK Holocaust Memorial, saying the plot in Victoria Gardens is too small, prone to flooding, and that the scheme would set a ’dangerous precedent’ for parks in London.

Architecture critic Joseph Rykwert, who was born in Warsaw and moved to England in 1939 to escape Nazi persecution, has also said the site is unsuitable for the Holocaust memorial.

Rykwert said: ‘Would a Holocaust memorial not provide a worthy complement to such features [as exist on the site]? Not at all, I think. With all its inevitably overscaled outworks and signage it would disembowel the precious public space at a crucial point by Parliament, which is itself now constrained by the inevitable security outworks.’ 

’That the ground – like the Palace of Westminster itself – is subject to flooding, all the recent flood defences notwithstanding, means that documents would in any case be at risk there.’

Shortlisted teams

  • Adjaye Associates (UK) with Ron Arad Associates, Gustafson Porter + Bowman, DHA, All Clear, Accept & Proceed, Abigail Morris, and Jonathan Safran Foer
  • Allied Works (USA) with Ralph Appelbaum Associates, Robert Montgomery, OLIN, and Lisa Strausfeld
  • Caruso St John (UK) with Rachel Whiteread, Marcus Taylor, Vogt Landscape Architects, Arup Lighting Design, and David Bonnett Associates
  • Diamond Schmitt Architects (CA) with Martha Schwartz Partners, and Ralph Appelbaum Associates
  • Foster + Partners (UK) with Michal Rovner and Future\Pace, Local Projects, Avner Shalev, Simon Schama, Samantha Heywood, Tillotson Design Associates, David Bonnett Associates, and Whybrow
  • Heneghan Peng Architects (IE) with Gustafson Porter, Event, Bruce Mau Design, BuroHappold Engineering, Bartenbach, and Duncan Boddy (PFB Construction)
  • John McAslan + Partners (UK) with MASS Design Group, DP9, London Communications Agency, Ralph Appelbaum Associates, Local Projects, Modus Operandi, JencksSquared, and Lily Jencks Studio
  • Lahdelma & Mahlamäki Architects (FI) with David Morley Architects, Ralph Appelbaum Associates, and Hemgård Landscape Design
  • Studio Libeskind (US) with Haptic Architects, Martha Schwartz Partners, Lord Cultural Resources, BuroHappold Engineering, Alan Baxter, Garbers & James, and James E. Young
  • Zaha Hadid Architects (UK) with Anish Kapoor, Event London, Sophie Walker Studio, Lord Cultural Resources, Arup Lighting Design, Whybrow, and Access=Design

Jury

  • Peter Bazalgette (chair) Chair, United Kingdom Holocaust Memorial Foundation and Chair, ITV Board
  • Ephraim Mirvis Chief Rabbi of the United Kingdom
  • Sajid Javid MP Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government
  • Sadiq Khan Mayor of London
  • Ben Helfgot, Holocaust Survivor, honorary president, ’45 Aid Society and president, Holocaust Memorial Day Trust
  • Sally Osman Director of Royal Communications
  • Loyd Grossman Chair of Royal Parks
  • Alice M Greenwald Director, National September 11 Memorial and Museum
  • Daniel Finkelstein Journalist
  • Baroness Kidron Film director and crossbench peer
  • Dame Julia Peyton-Jones Former director of the Serpentine Galleries
  • Paul Williams Director, Stanton Williams Architects
  • Charlotte Cohen Prime Minister’s Holocaust Youth Commissioner
  • Natasha Kaplinsky Broadcaster. Kaplinsky recently recorded the testimonies of more than 100 Holocaust survivors and camp liberators.
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Readers' comments (1)

  • The crashing of the Holocaust memorial proposals into the tiny park adjoining the Houses of Parliament is about as ill-advised as the plonking of the 'garden bridge' down over the Thames nearby - but will the government listen to the voices of reason? Will the RIBA have the guts to say anything?

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