Design for victims of communism memorial slammed by federal advisers

A federal advisory panel lambasted an early, sombre design for a national memorial to the victims of communism as potentially "detrimental to the dignity" of nearby Parliament Hill, newly released documents show.

Committee had concerns about the project's price tag and 'negative symbolism'

This is the new rendering of the smaller and shorter victims of communism memorial. It is eight metres tall and only takes up 37 per cent of the site, not 60 per cent as an earlier plan indicated. (National Capital Commission)

A federal advisory panel lambasted an early, sombre design for a national memorial to the victims of communism as potentially "detrimental to the dignity" of nearby Parliament Hill, newly released documents show.

The National Capital Commission's advisory committee on planning, design and realty also had concerns last year about the project's price tag, "negative symbolism" and structural safety, particularly in the slippery Ottawa winters, the internal records reveal.

Other documents disclosed under the Access to Information Act say the projected cost of the memorial — to be covered by federal and private funds — had almost doubled to about $6 million by January of this year.

The records help explain why the commission unveiled plans in June for a redesigned and significantly smaller version of the memorial. The commission is expected to consider a final design in November, after the federal election.

The Conservative government has strongly backed the planned memorial as a means of recognizing the more than 100 million people around the globe who died or suffered under communist regimes. The government is managing the project on behalf of Tribute to Liberty, a charity established in 2008.

Design 'makes a statement'

The initiative has drawn fierce criticism from critics who object to the memorial's stark design and location on a patch of green in the parliamentary precinct long reserved for a new Federal Court building.

A lawsuit aimed at blocking the project has been placed on hold until after the final design has been approved.

It was well-known that the federal advisory committee, composed of leading architects and planners from across Canada, had concerns about the memorial. But the newly released minutes of the committee's Aug. 21 and 22, 2014, meetings reveal disdain for the entry that would later be selected as the winner by a jury.

The design by Toronto-based Abstrakt Studio Architecture features a series of angular peaks, or "memory folds," with more than 100 million pixel-like "memory squares" — each representing a person — covering the exterior face of the folds. The initial idea was to have the folds depict a mural of dead bodies when viewed from a distance. The design also includes a Bridge of Hope and elevated viewing platform.

Concerns about negativity

The members praised the plan to depict individuals as "a strong gesture" and said the overall concept "makes a statement."

But they also considered the design:

  • Well over budget.
  • Replete with negative symbolism that could be misinterpreted as offering no hope, and be detrimental to the dignity of Parliament Hill.
  • A statement of negativity, since the images of corpses would be seen from many vantage points in the capital.
  • Problematic to build in that subtleties would be lost in the execution.
  • To pose safety and accessibility issues, including slippery surfaces in winter.
  • Too similar to a planned national Holocaust monument. The committee also worried the Bridge of Hope would offer a less-than-inspiring view of a heating plant and felt a planned "aggressive lighting scheme" would alter the Parliament Hill landscape.

The National Capital Commission cited ongoing input from the advisory committee in late June when it outlined several changes to the winning design.

The memorial would now occupy just over one-third of the site — not 60 per cent — and its overall height had dropped by about half to approximately five metres.

The new plan also included more attention to landscaping, additional trees, nuanced lighting and better access for the disabled. In addition, it emphasized the theme of Canada "as a land of refuge" in the memorial's imagery and message.


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