Team led by David Adjaye to design UK's Holocaust memorial

Location next to parliament in London has triggered objections from residents and opposition from Imperial War Museum

A new national Holocaust memorial next to parliament will be designed by a team led by Sir David Adjaye after a competition that attracted entries from some of the world’s leading architecture and design consortiums.

The memorial and education centre will be built in Victoria Tower Gardens, a prime site beside the Houses of Parliament and the River Thames, despite objections from some local residents. The project, to which £50m of public money has been committed, is expected to be completed by 2021.

The winner was announced at the Victoria and Albert Museum on Tuesday in the presence of many high-profile figures involved in the competition, including the communities secretary, Sajid Javid, the mayor of London, Sadiq Khan, the former chancellor Ed Balls, Sir Peter Bazalgette from the UK Holocaust Memorial Foundation, the Design Council chief executive, Sarah Weir, and Ephraim Mirvis, the chief rabbi. Holocaust survivors were also present.

The winning design was intended to be not something you look at but something you experience, said Ron Arad, an Israeli designer who is part of the winning consortium. Much of it is below ground, with 23 tall bronze “fins” emerging from the earth and drawing visitors down narrow stairs into the exhibition space and learning centre.

An aerial plan of the design
An aerial plan of the design by Adjaye Associates and Ron Arad architects. Photograph: lperez/PR

“The message of this is so powerful; it is more than just a project,” said Adjaye, a Ghanaian-British architect whose credits include the National Museum of African American History and Culture in Washington DC and the Tower Hamlets Idea Store.

“The complexity of the Holocaust story, including the British context, is a series of layers that have become hidden by time. Our approach to the project has been to reveal these layers and not let them remain buried under history,” he said.

“To do so we wanted to create a living place, not just a monument to something of the past. We wanted to orchestrate an experience that reminds of the fragility and constant strife for a more equitable world.”

A shortlist of 10 finalists was whittled down from 92 entries submitted by architecture and design teams from 26 countries.

The shortlisted teams included some of the world’s leading architects and firms, such as Daniel Libeskind, Zaha Hadid Architects and Norman Foster, as well as artists including the sculptor Anish Kapoor and the Turner prize winner Rachel Whiteread.

The selection jury was unanimous in its choice of the team consisting of Adjaye Associates, Ron Arad architects and the landscape architects Gustafson Porter + Bowman as the winner.

The learning centre will showcase the testimonies of 112 Holocaust survivors, recorded specially for the memorial. As well as the 6 million Jews killed in the Holocaust, the memorial will commemorate the persecution and deaths of Roma, gay and disabled people.

But, Bazalgette, said “remembering is not enough. The new memorial is also about today and will look forward.” Hate crime, antisemitism and Islamophobia were rising and the internet and social media were used for the mutual confirmation of prejudices, he said. Holocaust denial was likely to increase in the next very digital decade, he added.

Khan said: “For me it’s personal, as mayor of this great city, in which diversity is a strength not a weakness.” He added: “It breaks my heart that, here in the most progressive city in the world, children going to a Jewish school need protection.”

Lili Pohlmann, 87, who was born in Poland and arrived in Britain in 1946, said she hoped the memorial would also commemorate the “righteous among nations”, those who helped Jews and other targets of the Nazis to escape.

“They showed such humanity. They fought not with weapons but with their hearts. These people also need to be remembered and commemorated,” she said.

The siting of the memorial next to parliament was of great significance, said Bazalgette. “The new memorial will be a national asset that asserts our civil values. It will stand in the shadow of parliament to remind us what happens when democracy and civil society is subverted.”

The planned ‘Hall of Voices’ at the memorial
The planned ‘Hall of Voices’ at the memorial. Photograph: PR

Javid said the monument would be constructed “right in the heart of our democracy … Through this project, we stand up as a nation; we stand together, regardless of our religion, race or background; and we stand against ignorance and bigotry.

“The new learning centre will not only remind us of mankind’s capacity for darkness through the story of the Holocaust and other genocides – crucially, it will also remind us of our incredible capacity for good.”

The project became embroiled in controversy earlier this month when the Imperial War Museum (IWM) called for the learning centre plan to be reconsidered because it would compete with its own Holocaust galleries, opening in 2020, less than a mile away.

The IWM, which has been the national museum for the Holocaust since 2000, said the learning centre was likely to replicate its own advanced plans for a £33.5m digitally enabled learning and events suite, and the public should be offered one facility, rather than competing educational resources.

Bazalgette said the memorial foundation would meet the IWM in the next few days to discuss ways of complementing one another. “I’m confident we’ll work together,” he said.

The Victoria Tower Gardens site also triggered objections from local residents, who said it was completely contrary to London’s ambition to protect its green spaces.

A letter signed by dozens of MPs and peers, and sent to all members of the House of Lords earlier this year, said: “The gardens are extensively used by residents, visitors to London and the many thousands who work nearby, including those working in the Palace of Westminster. They are an oasis of calm, enjoyed as a place of exercise, play, picnics, sunbathing and dog walking.”

The memorial would “change irrevocably” the character of the gardens, which would cease to be an amenity for ordinary people, it said.

Residents also raised concerns about increased security in the area as a result of the memorial.

The proposal will be subject to planning permission, including consultation with local residents. “Everybody’s voice will be heard. I’m confident that at the end of it everyone will be satisfied,” said Bazalgette.


Harriet Sherwood

The GuardianTramp

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