Architect Daniel Libeskind suggests a rethink of UK Holocaust memorial site

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Architect Daniel Libeskind suggests a rethink of UK Holocaust memorial site

EXCLUSIVE: Designer of the Jewish Museum Berlin says proposal to build in Westminster has ‘so many obstacles’ and that real agreement is needed on where it should go

Daniel Libeskind, the son of Holocaust survivors, and a view of the proposed memorial in Victoria Tower Gardens, Westminster.  Picture: Alamy
Daniel Libeskind, the son of Holocaust survivors, and a view of the proposed memorial in Victoria Tower Gardens, Westminster. Picture: Alamy

The world-renowned architect Daniel Libeskind has suggested that the UK rethink the plan to locate a National Holocaust Memorial next to the Palace of Westminster.  

Although Victoria Tower Gardens was very visible, it was “a small site”, he said in comments that also referenced the opposition from local people and others to the project.

“It has so many obstacles and, who knows, maybe the whole question should be reopened to think about what is the best site for the memorial, where people really agree to build it, and which has the impact on London and the UK that it should have.”

Libeskind is perhaps best known as the designer of the Jewish Museum Berlin, which opened in 2001. His design for a National Holocaust Monument in Canada, titled Landscape of Loss, Memory and Survival, was unveiled to much acclaim in 2017. From above, the building in Ottawa is a skewed Star of David. Forty-ft high photographs of Holocaust sites across Europe, including a field of grass and trees through which railway tracks ran, are embedded in the monument’s six concrete and metal walls.

Born in Poland to two Jewish Holocaust survivors, Libeskind now lives and works in New York. Asked about the concept for the London memorial, by Adjaye Associates, Libeskind said: “I’m familiar with the design.” He noted that it was the “exact same design” that had been submitted to the Ottawa competition.

Adjaye Associates was the lead company on the design that won the London competition for a memorial and learning centre, in which a Libeskind design was among a total of 10 shortlisted. Its main feature is 23 huge metal fins, with the spaces in between them representing the 22 countries from which Jews were killed by the Nazis. The design as well as the location have received criticism in the UK, including from politicians and from prominent members of the Jewish community. Among the concerns expressed are that the memorial will be difficult to access and to guard, and will be a trophy site for pro-Palestinian protesters.

Libeskind’s design for Maggie’s Royal Free, a cancer care centre at the Royal Free Hospital in Hampstead, north London, was unveiled in January and his design for Einstein House, a new repository at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem that will house the legacy, work and research of the physicist Albert Einstein, a founder of the university, is under construction.

His comments on the UK National Holocaust Memorial project come as a select committee of MPs consider evidence presented this month and last by petitioners against legislation drafted to clear the way for it to go ahead. Last month MPs heard from four survivors, including 98-year-old Anita Lasker-Wallfisch, as well as Britain’s foremost historian on the Holocaust Sir Richard Evans, who are strongly opposed to the memorial design and to its siting in Victoria Tower Gardens.

Last summer, Adjaye Associates stepped back from the project, and was removed from two other big projects, in Liverpool and in the United Arab Emirates, following reports of allegations of sexual assault and harassment by three women against its founder, the Ghanaian-British architect Sir David Adjaye.

Sir David denies suggestions of sexual assault or harassment made against him. He said: “I categorically reject any allegations of sexual misconduct or abuse. They are untrue, distressing for me and my family and run counter to everything I stand for.”

Lord Pickles, co-chair of the UK Holocaust Memorial Foundation with the former Labour education secretary Ed Balls, commented: “The 2017 International competition for the UK Holocaust Memorial and Learning Centre attracted entries from the world’s top architectural practices.

“The competing designs toured the country including an indicative vote by the general public. The judging panel eventually chose a design focused around a powerful bronze memorial designed by Ron Arad Associates which in the panel’s view ‘deftly resolved an essential challenge of the brief: being visually arresting (“highly visible from near and far”) yet showing sensitivity to its location and context.’”

Pickles pointed out that the memorial project had the support of the prime minister, leader of the opposition and the main political parties as well as the Board of Deputies, the Jewish Leadership Council and the Chief Rabbi.

He added that he looked forward to construction starting “this year”.

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