The proposed Holocaust Memorial outside the Houses of Parliament continues in the great tradition that the representation of this catastrophe is best achieved through designs that use the media of architecture and sculpture to express its full horror. (I should make it clear that the subject here is that of Memorials rather than Museums)
I believe that this approach never achieves its aim, and never comes anywhere near making the observer fully confront the unique aspect of the Holocaust, which was the systematic, fully planned and state-run murder of six million people, achieved by the use of industrial methods.
If you google Images of Holocaust Memorials you will find a mix of failed attempts to embody, abstract, dramatise or symbolise the sheer scale of the horror. On display are mainly self-consciously arty monuments that offer mixed messages (tragedy being redeemed by contrition; representations of religious iconography and of victims or those who survived). The results are always kitch, and the memorials are commonly misused as settings for holiday snaps, selfies and so on, or as unofficial playgrounds
I have always felt that the Holocaust defeats attempts at creative interventions in any media. The plain facts, the history (in documentaries and memoirs for example) are always more powerful than any kind of fiction.
On a Holocaust Memorial Day a number of years ago, when I was a member of a creative writing group, our moderator set us the task of writing a Holocaust poem, for the following session. I felt uncomfortable approaching the subject, so instead of a poem I made a graphic representation of 60,000 dots on an A3 sheet - that’s a Premier League Football Stadium crowd, for comparison. Then I made another sheet showing one hundred rectangles each representing a figure of 60,000. What this does is to show the staggering enormity of the Holocaust, which is otherwise virtually impossible to imagine.
One way of making a Memorial worthy of this task would have a display of six million short grey pegs (for instance) on a black floor, set out randomly but with space around each. The enclosure would be a rectangular black box hall, severe and minimal, and free of architectural manipulations of form, space light, materials or other devices, there would be no attempt to beautify or dramatise the display. Circulation would be round the periphery of the installation. The temperature inside the hall would be perceptibly colder than outside.
I have made these suggestions because I feel that the whole set up for the project is misconceived, and will result in a ‘Holocaust Experience’ which ticks all the right boxes at the expense of confronting the essential monstrous truth: under the Final Solution policy the Nazis murdered six million men, women and children.
David Adjaye is an original, courageous architect whose work is always challenging and controversial. This time, however, in attempting to follow a bad brief, he has produced two proposals that lack any kind of conviction or integration.
Start agin - new brief,new site.