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Competition: Monuments of the Future, England

Historic England has launched an ideas contest to rethink the future of memorials across the country (Deadline: 30 April)

The open competition seeks proposals for 10 speculative monuments commemorating either stories, people or groups who deserve recognition, with one for each English region and one national structure.

The call for ideas is part of the built heritage body’s Immortalised season, which will explore the variety of ways people and events have been commemorated around the world. Ten successful applications will each receive a small grant to further develop their proposals. These will then feature in a public exhibition in London, opening on 3 September.

Lord Nelson on Nelson's Column in Trafalgar Square

Lord Nelson on Nelson’s Column in Trafalgar Square

Source: Image by Redcoat

Lord Nelson on Nelson’s Column in Trafalgar Square

Historic England chief executive Duncan Wilson said: ‘Recent years have witnessed a profound shift in the way we think about monuments. New statues have been created to honour previously overlooked historic figures, while campaigns to remove others have made headlines around the world.

‘In the UK, who and how we remember is being debated with increasing vigour – a reflection of our changing political and social landscape and national identity. Now is a good moment to consider which events or individuals deserve greater recognition. The competition is not just about revisiting difficult and contested histories; the desire to commemorate is also about public demonstrations of love and admiration.’

The competition follows a surge in heated debates over the creation and removal of statues and monuments around the world, including whether London should erect a new statue to the late prime minister Margaret Thatcher. Last May, a campaign to remove a statue of Robert E Lee from Emancipation Park in Charlottesville, Virginia, resulted in violent clashes which saw one person killed and many injured.

Meanwhile in Germany, an innovative new ‘counter-monuments’ movement has responded to the challenges of memorialising the Holocaust by preserving objects, buildings and sites that directly confront the meaning and power of memorials in the public realm.

Historic England’s contest aims to enhance the debate on who should be immortalised and how we can respond to contested statues.

The winning designs will feature in the Immortalised exhibition at The Workshop, Lambeth High Street. This will explore contemporary approaches to public memory in England and respond to the well-documented lack of representations of minorities, including women and people of colour, in England’s memorial landscape.

How to apply

Deadline

The deadline for applications is 5pm on 30 April.

Contact details

Email: enquiries@immortalisedcompetition.co.uk

View the competition website for more information

Memorial to Victims of Tunisian Massacres case study: Q&A with George King Architects

The London and Gloucestershire-based practice discusses lessons learned designing a competition-winning memorial in Birmingham to the victims of the Sousse and Bardo massacres

How will your project create a sensitive monument to those who lost their lives in the Tunisia massacres?

We have been involved in the design of a number of monuments and memorials over the past few years. Last year we completed a sculpture for the NHS Organ Donation Trust and we have two memorials that will be completed this year including the Sousse and Bardo memorial in honour of the victims of the two terrorist attacks in Tunisia in 2015 and a memorial to the 2014 Eastbourne pier fire. Our approach for each one is similar but leads to very different solutions. Our process is always to be led by the brief, the site and the experiences of those involved, in order to tell a story and mark a moment in time. For the Sousse and Bardo memorial, to be situated in Cannon Hill Park, Birmingham, the challenge takes on a much deeper meaning. We aim to be a conduit for the survivors of the attack and the families of the victims in order to capture their complex thoughts, experiences and emotions and reflect them through our design. By doing this we aim to design something that is sensitive and appropriate but also unique and special.

Memorial to Victims of Tunisian Massacres by George King Architects

Memorial to Victims of Tunisian Massacres by George King Architects

Memorial to Victims of Tunisian Massacres by George King Architects

Which architectural, material, visual and other methods did you harness in your design?

Each of our memorials is designed differently, to tell a unique story and mark a specific moment in time. For our memorial to the Eastbourne Pier fire, the starting point was the discovery of a large number of partly burnt 2p coins that survived from the arcade machines. For us these were a symbol of survival and rebirth and so once the decision was made to make our memorial using these the design developed very quickly. There is such a powerful story and message behind each coin that it instantly adds a sense of gravitas and narrative to the memorial. For the Sousse and Bardo memorial the design inspiration came from survivors of the attacks and from the families who lost loved ones. At an early stage there was a feeling that a theme of water would be appropriate as a reference to the location where the Sousse attack took place but also as symbol of renewal. Our design evolved into a wave frozen in time and looping back on itself. The wave is made from 31 apparently individual streams, one for each victim, however these streams in fact all flow into each other which again reinforces the theme of renewal and interconnectedness which was important to the families.

Memorial to Victims of Tunisian Massacres by George King Architects

Memorial to Victims of Tunisian Massacres by George King Architects

Memorial to Victims of Tunisian Massacres by George King Architects

What advice would you have to contest participants on designing a new type of monument fit for the future?

Considering the site and setting of your project is key. Think about how people will use your site, what kind of space do you want to create, what experience do you want people to have? The Sousse and Bardo memorial is located in a Grade II listed park and so we felt it was very important that our memorial would use the natural assets that it offered us rather than dominating it entirely. The existing trees create a sense of shelter and protection, we used the natural topography of the landscape to create rows of terraced seating and the entire scheme is orientated around framing views towards the existing lake. Creating spaces such as memorials with a great deal of meaning is often a balancing act. We wanted to create a place where families could meet and gather but also be alone. It needed to be open and welcoming but also sheltered and private. It had to provide a sense of significance to the victims but also be usable to the wider public. On a practical level the design needs to be long lasting and durable. It will remain in existence for generations to come and so needs to work as well on day one as on year 100. It should be resistant to vandalism especially for sensitive projects where the thought of a memorial to a loved one being damaged or vandalised could be quite upsetting to family members. Maintenance should be considered too, your project should be designed to be as low maintenance as possible. This is not just a financial consideration but also key to ensuring that the monument always looks its best for visits from those it means the most to.

Memorial to Victims of Tunisian Massacres by George King Architects

Memorial to Victims of Tunisian Massacres by George King Architects

Memorial to Victims of Tunisian Massacres by George King Architects

Q&A with Tamsin Silvey

The programme curator at Historic England dicusses her ambitions for the competition

Tamsin Silvey

Tamsin Silvey

Tamsin Silvey

Why are your holding a contest to rethink the future of monuments?

Monuments are all around us, we walk past statues, streets and buildings that memorialise myriad individuals on a daily basis, and rarely think about the histories they represent. Historic England helps people care for, enjoy and understand more about the heritage we live with and we strive to diversify the narratives that can be explored in the public realm.

The contest to rethink the future of monuments is part of our Immortalised season which looks at who has been commemorated and who is forgotten in our monuments. Our research made it very clear that there are groups who scarcely appear – women, LGBTQ communities, people of colour. We want to draw attention to this absence and start a conversation about what memorialisation should look like today, so we are asking people to think about how, who and where they would like to see memorials.

The contest is a way of challenging the architectural talents of today to think about how they would create memorials that reflect society today, and to influence the different forms that a modern monument could take. Every statue, sculpture, monument, or plaque is the result of a design process, and we think young architects, artists, and designers should have the chance to shape the memorial landscape of the future. We are keen for local, national and international participation as until now many of the monuments out there reflect grand narratives of select few. We want to understand who and what people would like future generations to walk past and remember.

The Neighbours by Siegfried Charoux

The Neighbours by Siegfried Charoux

Source: Image by David Holt

The Neighbours by Siegfried Charoux

What is your vision for the new exhibition and the ten proposals?

The Immortalised exhibition will take over a huge former workshop space in South London and will be exploring the history and contemporary debates surrounding memorialisation in an immersive way. The winning entries will be integral to this story, helping to show how monuments of the future might take us in a new direction. We won’t be building the proposals full size. Instead we’re asking the winning teams to convey their ideas using a variety of media – sound, video, sculpture, drawings, text – anything that will help visitors understand how this approach to memoralisation offers something different (and how it connects to the person or event being commemorated). We will work with the winners to present their ideas, and there are no restrictions on how practical these might be to realise – we want to present entries that challenge traditional typologies of monuments which is why the brief is deliberately open.

What sort of architects and designers are you hoping will apply?

The competition is open to all, but we’re particularly keen to hear from smaller practices, up-and-coming designers, and students from a variety of backgrounds. The exhibition will be a chance to showcase truly innovative design approaches to a highly charged subject, and we expect lots of press once the shortlist is announced.

The Queen Mother memorial by Philip Jackson

The Queen Mother memorial by Philip Jackson

Source: Image by Charlie Dave

The Queen Mother memorial by Philip Jackson

Are there any other similar innovative memorial projects you have been impressed by?

Other countries have seen major new interventions in their memorial landscape that challenge what a monument might be and do. Germany’s counter-monuments are perhaps the best example of this, with artists and architects such as Jochen Gerz and Peter Eisenman confronting the tragedy of the Holocaust in very different but equally thought-provoking ways. Do-Ho Suh’s work Public Figures also subverts our expectations about statues dedicated to illustrious individuals. In terms of memorials that respond to a specific place, we’ve found The Monument Lab project in Philadelphia particularly inspiring. While the Immortalised competition is focused on the space of the exhibition, we hope that the winning entries will prompt a similar re-engagement with public history and memory out there, in the real world.

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