There has been a blossoming of creative and inclusive ideas on who is memorialised and why.
HOW DO WE venerate the events and people that have shaped our world for the better – those who have made the greatest sacrifices, shown extraordinary courage under pressure or pioneered life-changing initiatives? It has never been more important to address the issue of who is celebrated and why in our public sculptures and structures, given the widespread backlash against prevailing hierarchies and biases; I hope we’re all relieved that no more statues of rich white men, whether military ‘heroes’ or slaveowning ‘philanthropists’, are likely to be commissioned any time soon.
Guildford Crematorium needed to be reimagined to cater for modern memorial services
This expansion of perspectives has given rise to a welcome variety of artistic and architectural expressions. From Turner Prizewinning artist Veronica Ryan’s delicious, giant bronze and marble tropical fruit sculptures now adorning a public square in Hackney in tribute to the Windrush generation, which included her parents (see case study), to newly commissioned art works celebrating overlooked UK landscapes, designed to inspire a greater appreciation for the natural world, such as that designed for the Lake District by Olafur Eliasson and nature writer Robert MacFarlane (see Your Daylight Destination, case study).
Guildford Crematorium needed to be reimagined to cater for modern memorial services
For most of us in the democratic world, it isn’t military generals and politicians we want to pay tribute to (for obvious reasons) but the ordinary and everyday heroes. And nowhere is this more evident, in the UK at least, than in the investment that has poured into the neglected graveyards and crematoria that
Guildford Crematorium needed to be reimagined to cater for modern memorial services
Guildford Crematorium was suffering from dilapidated facilities deemed too cramped to cater for contemporary needs. Given the shift the management had perceived in peoples’ grieving rituals, funds were raised for facilities that could accommodate a variety of groups and be appropriate for modern trends, offering space to grieve as well as for more joyous “life celebrations”.
Haverstock was appointed on the strength of its elegant and thoughtful previous work, and undertook initial work to assess whether to extend or rebuild. Once a rebuild was decided on, Haverstock’s response is all about supporting the visitor journey, with attention to the flow of mourners considered “fundamental” to the design.
Masonry walls obscure internal and external spaces to those viewing the building from the gardens. Along the top of this folding wall is a concrete band, forming a solid and continuous datum from which two geometric volumes emerge, flourished during the reign of Queen Victoria; often established by enterprising entrepreneurs, many were beautifully landscaped, offering an opportunity for the newly rich industrialists, merchants and middle classes to demonstrate their wealth and taste with ornate carvings, temples and mausoleums honouring the departed. By the late 20th century most were horribly overgrown and ramshackle, needing to be taken on by local authorities, who have had even fewer resources to maintain them over the past two decades. Luckily, the National Lottery Heritage Fund (NLHF) has been able to step in, and has supported nearly 290 churchyard and cemetery projects worth over £46m.
This investment in repairs and refurbishments is possibly more about celebrating what these important civic landmarks contribute to the living, in community and environmental benefits, as it is about paying respects to the dead. As Hannah Dolby, NLHF media and public relations manager, says: ‘We support cemeteries for their cultural, social and natural heritage values. They provide amazing archives of who used to live in a place, are historically important landscapes often by famous designers, and urban nature oases too. Many effectively work as parks, providing much needed green spaces for quiet relaxation and fresh air.’
Among the significant restoration projects recently completed or under way is London Road, Coventry’s spectacular cemetery designed by Sir Joseph Paxton – the legendary architect/engineer of the Crystal Palace – which enjoyed improved landscaping and restoration of its small, exquisite chapels for Coventry’s year as City of Culture 2020. Belfast, Bristol (Arnos Vale), Stirling’s Old Town Cemetery and many more are currently being revitalised. In London, says Dolby, the focus has been on the ‘magnificent seven’ (West Norwood, Highgate, Nunhead, Abney Park, Brompton, Kensal Green and Tower Hamlets), the most spectacular of the 19th century cemeteries, filled with the bodies of the rich and famous.
West Norwood is midway through a major renovation, thanks to a generous £5.1m of NLHF funding. Clearing decades of weeds and brambles is just one small part of the scheme. There has been a major intervention to improve drainage, and restoration of the 12 listed monuments situated within its walls, including a remarkable Greek temple, whose ornamental interiors are being brought back to life, while the building itself will be made ready for regular community use.
Stoke Newington’s Abney Park Cemetery is also undergoing improvements, not just to its Egyptian-style lodges but also the installation of a ground source heat pump to power the chapel and crematorium – the first ever UK cemetery to gain such a sustainable icon.
The pandemic brought home only too vividly how widespread secularisation has stripped us of the traditional rituals and ceremonies that can help make the passing of a loved one feel more meaningful. And in this, London practice Haverstock has made its mark with several award-winning projects that create a more welcoming and flexible environment for mourners of all denominations. Lea Fields was the first to put them on the map – an elegantly contemporary, sculptural sequence of spaces in brick, timber and bronze has been set into a park landscape, with the landscape playing an integral part in the design. In the multiple awards that followed, one of the aspects that was singled out for praise was the building’s care in avoiding mixing between groups of mourners – the last thing the bereaved want to feel is that your lost loved one is just one more item on the day’s conveyor belt of cremation candidates.
In Guildford Crematorium (see case study), they took this one step further in specifying a variety of spaces for solitary solace and contemplation, in small or larger groups.
Through these case studies here, and other contemporary examples, we can hope to see an exciting new era in the life of monuments and spaces of commemoration.
Client Guildford Borough Council
Area Gross internal area 748 sq m
Construction cost £10m
Completed March 2020
Contractor Buxton Building Contractors
Structural and civic engineers Elliott Wood Partnership
Landscape Architect Plincke
VERONICA RYAN WINDRUSH SCULPTURE
Veronica Ryan’s tropical fruits honour the Windrush generation. Image Credit: Andy Keate, 2021
Three huge tropical fruits, in all their voluptuous, dimpled and prickly glory, take pride of place on the site of Hackney’s Ridley Road market – a new permanent public sculpture by current Turner Prize-winning artist Veronica Ryan OBE. Ryan remembers making a special journey to this market with her mother, when she was a child growing up in Watford in the 1970s. This market was the nearest place they could source these exotic fruits, soursop, custard apples and breadfruit.
Commissioned by Hackney Council to honour the Windrush generation – who were shockingly treated via anti-refugee policies – and unveiled during the council’s black history season in 2021, the works, one made of marble (the custard apple, to mimic the fruit’s creamy tones) and the other two in bronze, are situated near St Augustine’s Tower, one of the most significant ancient structures in the borough.
Fitting beautifully into Ryan’s usual themes of migration, movement and memory, they were joined in 2022 by another sculpture from Thomas J Price, also in Hackney.
Said Ryan at the unveiling: ‘With the world crisis we are experiencing, this is a wonderful time to embrace positivity. Cultural visibility and representation evident in public spaces is crucial.’
The statues were curated by Create London, with additional funding from the Art Fund and the Henry Moore Foundation.
Client Hackney Council
Designer Veronica Ryan
Opened October 2021
WOMEN’S WORK: LONDON MAP
The new Women’s Work: London Map. Image Credit: Portrait: Morley Von Sternberg
Did you know that Waterloo Bridge was constructed by a predominantly female workforce? Well, anyone using the new Women’s Work: London Map will. Launched on 8 March 2023, to coincide with International Women’s Day, this new map celebrates the London buildings and projects to which women – as architects but also campaigners – have made a significant contribution. Created by voluntary group Part W, it was designed by EDIT Collective.
It aims to welcome women into the canon of celebrated architecture and inspire those interested in design and placemaking as well as providing an educational resource for young people. Since records began, women’s work in architecture and urban design has been left off the map, omitted from books and archives.
Yemí Aládérun, Zoë Berman and Alice Brownfield from Part W. Image Credit: Portrait: Morley Von Sternberg
Funded thanks to a crowdfunding campaign, an open call to London’s architectural community invited suggestions of buildings or sites where women have played a pivotal role in design, development, planning, conservation, commissioning or construction. Expanding the usual view focused on architecture to the wider ecology of city making, the proposed women could be engineers, designers, commissioners, policymakers, Funded thanks to a crowdfunding campaign, an open call to London’s architectural community invited suggestions of buildings or sites where women have played a pivotal role in design, development, planning, conservation, commissioning or construction. Expanding the usual view focused on architecture to the wider ecology of city making, the proposed women could be engineers, designers, commissioners, policymakers, landscape architects, conservationists, activists or community groups, for example. The call-out elicited 150 responses, which have been whittled down to 30 in the finished map, after careful consideration by a judging panel including Adam Nathaniel Furman and Laura Mark. The map features short descriptions of the project, and name-checks the women involved, including lead designers, clients or campaign groups.
Listed projects range from the obvious – London Aquatics Centre by Zaha Hadid Architects – to the less well known, such as Boatemah Walk and Warwick House, a redevelopment of Angell Town estate campaigned for by Dora Boatemah MBE, and delivered by Anne Thorne Architects designed for timber construction and high environmental performance and sustainability.
Bobby Niven’s design frames the views of the abbey and beyond. Image Credit: Keith Hunter
There are some lesser-known contributors to famous buildings too, such as The Shard’s engineer Roma Agrawal MBE, whose understanding and expertise was pivotal to both the foundations and its spire.
Free copies of the maps will be circulated through London schools, and proceeds of sales will go towards the creation of other, similar maps around the UK.
Client Part W
Designer EDIT Collective
Costs £15: www.Linkpop.com /part-w
THE NEW SCRIPTORIUM, ARBROATH
Bobby Niven’s design frames the views of the abbey and beyond.
Artist Bobby Niven’s New Scriptorium celebrates 700 years of knowledge sharing – of writing down and illustrating our histories, for now and posterity.
His quirky, carefully crafted retreat and workshop space for writers and poets is set in the ruins of Arbroath Abbey, the historic site where the Declaration of Arbroath was written – a letter sent in 1320 from all the landowners and community leaders of Scotland to the pope, asking him to recognise Scotland’s independence; it is widely seen as Scotland’s most iconic document. Niven’s commission, from the Arbroath 2020 Group, was part of the Declaration’s 700th anniversary, though its construction was delayed by the pandemic until 2022.
Taking inspiration from the site’s history and locality, it was built with a green oak frame by local carpenters, and clad in concrete panels, with a crafted timber interior that reveals colours, forms and textures inspired by those illustrations typically found on medieval manuscripts. Carved, serpentine timbers weave around the space, representing a scribe’s “arms”, bent at the elbow and wrist. In Niven’s design, these arms extend towards the window, which frames the views of the abbey and beyond. Daylight from a large roof light floods the space during the day, with a small wood-burning stove to keep it cosy at night and through the winter. The New Scriptorium is designed as a meditative studio space, and will also host local literary groups, such as Angus Writers Circle, as well as writers in residence. Says Niven: ‘We know that Arbroath Abbey had a very large and active community, including monks who could transcribe and illuminate documents and bound early manuscripts into books. The ability to read and write and convey information and document history was as powerful then as it is today.’
Client Arbroath 2020 Group with Historic Environment Scotland, Angus Place Partnership, Angus Council and Hospittalfield
Designer Bobby Niven
Opened June 2022
Funding Town Centre Fund and Creative Scotland
YOUR DAYLIGHT DESTINATION, LAKE DISTRICT
The artwork aims to highlight other overlooked beauties within the Lake District, including writing. Image Credit: Studio Olafur Eliasson
A permanent land artwork celebrating wild, open spaces and an overlooked piece of the Lake District will soon land along the Copeland coast. Co-created by writer Robert Macfarlane and celebrated Icelandic artist Olafur Eliasson, Your Daylight Destination was the winner out of four proposed artworks, including offerings from Rachel Whiteread and Roger Hiorns. The winner comprises several elements designed to defy easy comprehension when encountered from a distance – the object being to encourage paying closer attention to the mysteries of the landscape in front of you: a series of rings mounted at different angles on stands, a circular platform and a huge elliptical basin made of steel. The platform forms the basis of the sculpture, as well as a place to stand while viewing the work. At high tide, the basin will be entirely submerged. Water that is collected will remain there once the tide goes out. The resulting pool acts like a mirror for the sky. When on the platform, the rings will align as concentric circles that frame the ‘borrowed’ view of the sky, surrounded by sand.
Eliasson says: ‘This effect is achieved through anamorphosis, an old perspectival trick whereby an elongated shape appears different when viewed from a specific angle. In this case, it deals with the visual ambiguity of the elipse, a subject that has long fascinated me.’
Eliasson and MacFarline developed the work over autumn 2021 and winter 2022. MacFarlane – probably the UK’s most successful and celebrated nature writer – knows the Copeland area of the Lake District well, and proposed that the prehistoric cup-and-ring symbols found in abundance here be part of the artwork’s visual language. He says: ‘Our work provides a clear destination to the visitor: they make the journey out to the coast in order to park and walk to the exact location on the viewing platform where the anamorphic illusion “works” on them.’ He hopes the work will expand peoples’ idea of the area’s attractions beyond the mountains and lakes for which the area is famous. It is part of a wider programme of permanent artworks to highlight the overlooked beauties in the region, including new pieces of writing and an artist residency.
Client Copeland Borough Council
Funding HM Government’s Coastal Communities Fund and Sellafield Ltd’s Six Social Impact programme
Producer Aldo Rinaldi
Creative team Studio Olafur Eliasson, Robert MacFarlane
Launching Summer 2025
EXILE MUSEUM, BERLIN
The museum ‘will embrace and highlight the importance of the remaining fragment of Anhalter Bahnhof’. Image Credit: MIR
Berlin’s Anhalter Bahnhof was once Europe’s largest and busiest train station: in its peak decade, the 1920s, it connected Berlin to all the major cities in southern Europe. It is also the station from which millions fled rather than face persecution/incarceration – as well as the place from which the unlucky ones that remained were forcibly deported by the Nazi regime. Partly demolished after the war, its few ruined fragments are shortly to be transformed into a museum that bears witness to the experience of exile.
Danish architects Dorte Mandrup won the competition to design this important legacy project. Shaping the structure like a softly curved arch, the Exile Museum ‘will embrace and highlight the importance of the remaining fragment of Anhalter Bahnhof’, says practice director and founder Mandrup. ‘The new building will allow history to be visible and create a dialogue between past and present, where even today millions of people are still forced to leave their homes.’
A perforated brick facade offers views of the city to visitors inside
After the station’s demolition in 1961, just the vaulted entrance remained. That entrance will be absorbed into an open entrance piazza behind an open glass facade, which allows visitors to see all the activities on offer. The building will host exhibitions, events, education facilities, a shop and a restaurant with an outdoor terrace. The pathway from the ruined vault into the museum follows a similar pathway to that which people would have taken out onto the tracks.
A perforated brick facade offers views of Berlin to those inside, while creating a flickering shadow play within the three-storey foyer.
The Stiftung Exilmuseum Berlin is a civic initiative, established in 2018 by Nobel laureate Herta Müller, former German President Joachim Gauck and art dealer and co-founder of Villa Grisebach, Bernd Schultz.
Client Stiftung Exilmuseum Berlin
Architect Dorte Mandrup