National Holocaust Memorial

With Heneghan Peng Architects


London, United Kingdom | 2016- | Shortlisted competition entry

In September 2016, the Department for Communities and Local Government launched an international two-stage design competition for a National Memorial to honour the victims and survivors of the Holocaust and Nazi persecution.

Working in collaboration with Heneghan Peng Architects, our proposal acknowledges the soaring presence of the Houses of Parliament, but steps firmly back from its glamorous iconicity. The ground level of Victoria Tower Gardens is the datum of the present, while the journey into the Memorial entails an encounter with the voices of those who speak urgently of the past and the grave risk of it returning to the present. Rooted in British soil, these witnesses tell of grateful refuge and of productive lives led in cherished security. Views up from the sunken Memorial courtyard retrieve the democratic promise of Britain’s parliament, its people and its traditions. With the ascent to the Gardens comes an appreciation of the value of tolerant societies and a collective desire to defend their precious freedoms. Epic in scope, the narrative of subterranean descent, subsequent transformative experience and a return to the day-lit present is powerfully evocative and profoundly respectful.

The landscape proposal respects the existing context, and the value of the Garden as a peaceful place in the centre of the city. The visitors’ journey from the street moves through a number of thresholds, both physical and metaphorical, to arrive at the Memorial. On entering the Garden, the visitor is initially surrounded by dense planting, leaving the street behind and focusing their attention on the path ahead.

Tight allés of hornbeam trees mark a significant threshold the visitor passes through and under as part of this journey. Trees were places of secrecy during the holocaust, both for those in hiding, and for those concealing the atrocities carried out. Equally, nature and trees provided hope for those in captivity or hiding during the Holocaust. Hornbeam is proposed for its associations with tonics to relieve tiredness and the leaves were traditionally used to heal wounds.
Between the rows of trees, the path crosses a body of water remembering the journey of those, who were persecuted and fled the Nazi regime, taken in by the United Kingdom. Dappled light through the trees reflects in this still pool contrasting with the relative darkness of the surrounding trees. The lines of trees frame the Burghers of Calais, reflected in the water, a monument to those who knowingly walk towards death.

Passing under the tree canopies and out into the central lawn provides release and the first unobstructed view of the Memorial. The diagonal path leads the visitor into the heart of the lawn and to the entrance of the Memorial and Learning Centre. Hornbeam close the visitors view behind and focuses attention on the Memorial. The two rows of mature Plane trees on either side converge in the distance.

Text extracted from competition material, prepared by Gustafson Porter + Bowman and Heneghan Peng Architects, January 2017.