Choosing London’s holocaust memorial

Charlie McCann in The Economist:

Foster+Partners“There is nothing in this world as invisible as a public monument,” said Robert Musil, an Austrian writer. Britain’s first memorial to the victims of the Holocaust is a case in point. Designed by Richard Siefert and Derek Lovejoy, it is a humble garden of boulders and birch trees tucked away in Hyde Park. Many people aren’t even aware it exists. In 2015, the Holocaust Commission decided it wasn’t good enough and recommended that a new memorial be built. A shortlist of ten designs has been published, including entries by some of the biggest names in architecture: Zaha Hadid, David Adjaye, Norman Foster, Daniel Libeskind. Could they prove Musil wrong?

It’s been done before. In 1983, the same year that Siefert and Lovejoy planted their garden, a young Asian-American grad student called Maya Lin created a memorial in Washington, DC, for the American victims of the Vietnam war. It is composed of two long, slanting panels of black granite, which join at a wide angle. At its deepest, the wall sinks ten feet into the ground, resembling, as Lin put it, “a cut into the earth”. Inscribed are the names of 58,000 American soldiers, listed in the order that they died. As visitors walk through the memorial, they see the years pass, the death toll rise – and themselves, reflected in the polished stone. By building an experience and not an object, like the triumphant arches or statues of old, Lin reinvented the memorial for the modern age. Others have tried to replicate the emotional force of her wall. The Holocaust memorial in Berlin, an undulating field of large concrete slabs, makes visitors feel as if they are wandering through a strange cemetery. Passing through the six illuminated glass towers of Boston’s Holocaust memorial, each etched with “prisoner numbers” to represent the six million Jews who died, is similarly haunting.

Picture: Evoking the death camps

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