09 Jul, 2009

‘An effective, quietly profound tribute’

Posted by: admin In: Guardian

The pillars in Hyde Park are simple yet thoughtful in allowing visitors time, space and opportunity to honour those killed in the bombings, says Jonathan Glancey

Memorials to civilians in British cities are as rare as those to military heroes and dead soldiery are prolific. In London, you need more than a cab-driver’s “knowledge” to locate, say, the stone angel commemorating the eighteen children attending Poplar’s Upper North Street school killed by German Gotha bombers on 13 June 1917.

All this changed today, when the 7/7 Monument in Hyde Park, dedicated to the 52 Londoners killed by British terrorists, was unveiled.

The monument, in the guise of 52 slender and individually sand-cast stainless steel columns set in four closely linked groups — the groups marking the four locations where bombs exploded and people died — is the work of Kevin Carmody and Andy Groarke, young London-based architects who set up in practice together just a year after the attack.

Does it work? When today’s unveiling ceremony ended and there was all the time in the world to stop and stare, and to walk between these unexpectedly tactile columns, it seemed both effective and quietly profound. The simplest ideas often are.

The columns represent individuals and yet are seen as a collective, too. From a distance they look, and feel, like the kind of ancient standing stones so many of us find ineffably compelling, set in haunting corners of the British landscape.

Close up, these are clearly modern columns and yet none is steely, except in the fact that the material has been chosen because it is one of the most enduring of all in everyday use. Memories cast in steel will somehow endure.

The way the columns have been laid out encourages people to wander, and wonder, between them. In this sense, the 7/7 memorial borrows from Maya Lin’s acclaimed Vietnam War Memorial in Washington DC, where visitors’ faces are reflected in the polished black granite on which the 58,000 names of those who died are carved. In both projects, visitors complete the form of the memorials.

The board of the 7/7 memorial project, which included six representatives of the bereaved families, chose an abstract rather than a figurative memorial, feeling the latter would quickly date. Carmody and Groarke’s columns are intended to endure emotionally as well as physically.

The columns record simply the time, date and location of individual deaths. Names are recorded on a separate steel slab. The lettering designed for the memorial, by Phil Baines, is a subtle play on Edward Johnston’s famous typeface for the London Underground, itself a modern reworking of the kind of beautiful Roman lettering seen on memorials since London itself was founded in the 1st century BC. The 7/7 Memorial is both moving, and clearly designed to last.

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