Article Review


LOOKING BACK - PERSPECTIVES ON MEMORIAL ARCHITECTURE by Andy Groarke, Gavin Stamp and James McCosh.  AT Feb 2015


Looking Back was the final part of Report: Memorials which also looked at Philippe Prost's Notre Dame de Lorette, Tria Studio's Farewell Chapel in Slovenia, and John McAslan & Partners Kigali MemorialCentre. It coincided with the unveiling of King Richard III's tomb at Leicester Cathedral, and concentrates on Richard III's tomb, designed by McCosh, and the 7/7 memorial designed by Groarke, with other comments by Gavin Stamp.

These are very particular memorials but with others in the report can serve to illustrate how to commemorate civilians killed in war, terrorism, or disasters as opposed to celebrating the lives of individuals, such as the Taj Mahal or monuments in Westminster Abbey.
They are not celebrating victory, but remembrance and reconciliation. In a multi-cultural society there is the added difficulty as the victims may be of various religions. Many Moslems were killed in the 9/11 attack.


Gavin Stamp concludes the report with how not to design memorials, but it seems better to begin here, and go on to two fine examples, admittedly described by their designers.
Stamp writes, "Contemporary memorial design ought to be done by abstract forms but nobody seems able to." He cites the Police Memorial in Horseguard's Parade and the Princess Diana Memorial Fountain. He suggests that figurative sculpture and classical forms should be avoided as nobody can do figurative sculpture. He compares the recent Bomber Command memorial, by Liam O' Connor, a classical structure with bronze sculpture, with the nearby Royal Artillery Memorial by Jaggers, which is powerful but does not glamorise war.


7 July Memorial by Carmody Groarke Architects

 Andy Groarke writes, "One of our strongest memories of the 7th July attacks on London is the image of the wrecked bus, and the mediatisation  of events has become an important aspect of remembrance. However it was decided that a physical memorial was also required as a longer-lasting symbol of reconciliation and as a place for contemplation."
Hence it is not large scale, nor prominently located.
"We were engaged by clients who were confused at the loss of their loved ones, but through discussions which revealed quite raw emotions we came to realise that although the memorial's first duty is to those immediately affected, it also has a profound duty  to be resilient and resistant to people forgetting over a much longer period of time....
It is both figurative and abstract. It marks each life lost with an element, and the layers of detail that embellish each of the 52 stainless steel stelae hopefully allow investigation and interpretation ... to piece together what it is about.
"The duty of a memorial is not to make a message more comfortable; it's not an anaesthetic for society, but is meant to keep the issues vivid and alive....  A memorial can eloquently imply the unsayable. It asks the visitor to make sense of it, and it is the presence of the living visitor within the field of elements representing the dead that completes its message."

Richard III's Tomb by van Heyningen & Haward

James McCosh, a partner, writes, "Our commission to design the tomb of Richard III arose because we were reordering Leicester Cathedral when his remains were found in the city, so we were asked to look at how one might accommodate a memorial within the cathedral..... we've been able to think about .... how people come in and out and how they might stand in that space, all of which affects how they might perceive the tomb.
"There was a big conversation about what the memorial should convey, and its symbology and iconography were relatively contentious. The cathedral was initially expecting that the memorial would just be a ledger slab on the floor, while the Richard III Society wanted a big tomb that made a statement.
"Functionaly, a tomb is not very difficult; you've just got to provide a secure, stable environment for some remains ... people have very different views on how [Richard's] legacy should be perceived. We came to the view that we should make a dignified memorial to this person about whom  much is not known, and one that makes people think rather than being polemical......
"We wanted to provide a strong memorial that would speak of an ordinary human being as well as a king, and which didn't resort to the tropes of neo-medieval design.
" ..... people were traditionally buried with their feet facing east, so that at the resurrection they would rise to greet the Lord. At the other end, the shoulders are wider, and the head slightly raised. A cross is cut into the stone to show that the tomb is not a sarcophagous - the remains are actually in a vault below - and for the Christian symbolism of the door of the tomb being rolled away."

The tomb is made of Swaledale fossil stone quarried in North Yorkshire, appropriate for the last Yorkist king. Richard's coat of arms and symbol of the boar are incised  on the tomb with his motto loyaulte me lie (loyalty binds me). The space, behind the sanctuary and between side chapels, is delineated by roses of the House of York cut into the floor.

The visitors' or pilgrim's route is guarded by ropes, but you are free to linger, photograph, and even touch the tomb. The inevitable visitors' centre and adjacent Guildhall Museum are free, a tribute to Leicester, and Richard III will help in he city's regeneration which was already underway.

home architecture ethics


return to Articles and Reviews
To comment or offer contributions email

Thank you for visiting  arXitecture - please call again