Plans to Build a Holocaust Memorial in London Halted

A Holocaust memorial and education center slated to be built next to London’s Parliament and to begin construction later this year has been called off by the high court. Critics of the project, expected to be completed in 2025 at a cost of £100 million (~$130 million), question the monument’s placement, citing its incursion on green space and the threat that it might overshadow existing monuments, such as one commemorating the abolition of slavery.

The proposal would have located the United Kingdom Holocaust Memorial and Learning Center in Victoria Tower Gardens, located on the north bank of the River Thames on the southwestern corner of the Palace of Westminster, where the House of Commons and House of Lords convene. It was first announced in 2015, a year after then Prime Minister David Cameron launched a commission to explore what Britain could do to ensure the memory of the Holocaust. The result was a report entitled “Britain’s Promise to Remember,” which suggested the erection of a memorial somewhere in central London that would organically receive a lot of foot traffic. The project was supported by the Board of Deputies of British Jews.

Plans to build the memorial attracted fierce competition of architectural talent. Adjaye Associates, famously the team behind the National Museum of African American History and Culture in Washington, DC; Israeli industrial design group Ron Arad Architects, and London-based landscape design firm Gustafson Porter + Bowman ultimately and unanimously won the contract to design the building.

“Visitors approaching the Memorial will see a subtle grass landform with only the tips of the Memorial’s fins bristling at the distance. Its design stimulates a sense of curiosity and intrigue where visitors are encouraged to explore further into the memorial,” Adjaye Associates said in a description of the project.

But the proposal has been marred by controversy. Detractors included the former Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams, local community groups, and certain Jewish leaders. The government gave the go-ahead to the memorial last year after a six-week public comment period; Earlier this year, the London Historic Parks and Gardens Trust filed a suit against the decision, voicing concern over the insufficient consideration of alternative locations and the suitability of the site.

The trust worried that the memorial would have “significant harmful impacts” on the “character and function of the park.” Objects organized under the name Save Victoria Gardens. At the time, David Adjaye reportedly responded that “disrupting the pleasure of being in a park is key to the thinking.”

The trust’s lawyer, Richard Drabble, also cited concerns that the large memorial would detract from other monuments in the area, including the Buxton Memorial Fountain commemorating the end of slavery and a Rodin sculpture.

“London’s parks give everyone space to reflect, relax and play. They should not be built on, but protected,” said Helen Monger, director of the trust. “UK Holocaust education and this historic environment deserve better than this scheme.”

During a demonstration outside London’s high court earlier this year, protesters toted signs that read “Right Idea Wrong Place” and “Not Ok To Build in Parks.”

A spokesperson for the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities, formerly the Ministry for Housing, Communities, and Local Government, told Hyperallergic: “We will study the judgment carefully and consider our next steps. The Government remains committed to the creation of a new national Memorial commemorating the victims of the Holocaust, and it is disappointing — especially for Holocaust survivors — that this judgment will delay its completion.”

Justice Justine Thornton, who handed down the ruling, noted that a 1900 act on park land imposed “an enduring obligations” to retain land “as a public garden and integral part of the existing Victoria Tower Gardens.”

Next steps on the construction project are uncertain. Olivia Marks-Woldman, chief executive of the Holocaust Memorial Day Trust, said to the Guardian“We believe the need to establish a permanent physical Holocaust memorial for generations to come is particularly acute given continuing prejudice and situations around the world where people face atrocities and war crimes.”

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