Good Grief at London’s Highgate Cemetery

good-grief-at-londons-highgate-cemeteryThe third and final evening  (9/16/2016) of the Architecture Foundation’s residency in Highgate Cemetery is a conversation on the culture of memorialisation.  The event offers a last opportunity to see Sam Jacob Studio’s “A Very Small Part of Architecture”, a structure modeled on the Mausoleum for Max Dvorak, which Adolf Loos designed in 1921 but never realized.

Our yearning to mark collective loss may have encrusted London with monuments to an ever-growing number of victims but has this proliferation undermined our sense of what is sacred?

“Disrespectful” harrumphed the Express newspaper, incensed that gamers were hunting Pokémon in the proximity of war memorials. In 2010 Charlie Gilmour was sentenced to 16 months in prison for swinging off the Cenotaph during a student fees protest. Last year rough sleepers were photographed camping at the Carmody Groarke-designed 7/7 memorial in Hyde Park. The website “Totem and Taboo” records the many examples of the Berlin Holocaust Memorial being employed as a selfie backdrop by users of the gay hook-up app, Grindr.

Meanwhile, monuments to celebrated figures of the past from Bomber Harris to Cecil Rhodes are proving equally problematic as a growing movement demands the destruction of historic statues to individuals whose once-venerated actions are now at odds with today’s morality. Budapest dealt with the scars of Stalinist Communism by relocating its Soviet-era statues to an out of town park – not forgotten but at arm’s length. Should London adopt a similar mechanism for decommissioning its memorials?

As part of the Architecture Foundation’s Good Grief series exploring themes of loss and resurrection, this debate asks whether our culture of rampant memorialisation is sustainable or healthy. Can a city remember too much? Have we hit “peak memorial” and if not when will we?

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