Islington Green War Memorial 2006
In 2004 Islington Council’s Greenspace and Leisure department approved an upgrade of the park area at the centre of Islington Green. This wedge-shaped plot included the 1918 First World War memorial.
Being a temporary structure the memorial had never been intended as a permanent presence to commemorate the fallen. It was felt that it was no longer adequate. Its structural integrity had been allowed to deteriorate to the degree that it had developed a few irreversible structural problems.
Initially Art Office’s Isabel Vasseur and Kelly Carmichael were brought in to coordinate the re-claiming of an underused public space by reconsidering the park’s appeal to users and community groups with a vested interest in it as a rare breathing space along a busy high street. It quickly became clear that what was needed was a replacement monument that would be a more fitting commemoration to the men and women who had given their lives in conflict.
After embarking on a limited competition Sculptor John Maine RA was appointed to create a new memorial that would be more inclusive, more spatially generous and welcoming and not dedicated to a specific war, but to all conflicts. He realised upon visiting the site that a free standing monument was not going to answer the brief. He felt he needed to resolve the inherent contradictions of the site. These were:
To provide a quiet place of contemplation on one of the busiest road junctions in North London,
Open up the memorial spatially without making it unsuitable for ceremonial activities and,
For it not to be too solemn, but to retain enough formality for it to appeal to those remembering the fallen.
The Royal British Legion and other local stakeholders were consulted at each stage in the planning, which was protracted because of the sensitivity of the site and its location at the junction of two of North London’s busiest thoroughfares. There was some resistance to the apparently simple, non-traditional design solution devised by the sculptor and the landscape architect. The project went through two stages of planning before the application passed successfully.
Working closely with Landscape Architects J&L Gibbons who designed the hard landscape, planted landscaping and supporting stone structure, John Maine carved a granite wreath-like hoop that appears to rest against the two dressed stone walls that proclaim ‘To the Fallen. Land, Sea, Air and Home’ in a delightfully designed incised ribbon of text by Gary Breeze.
The placement of the stone was critical to the success of this piece, as was the source of the stone, which eventually came from a quarry in China, where it was carved. The round stone form is a pale granite, carved with textured facets that catch the light, angled as if at the base of the Cenotaph. It is an elegant, non-bombastic memorial that creates the right kind of visual focal point with the necessary gravitas as a place of remembrance.
The accompanying visual art and education programme included additional contributions from Gary Breeze, Adam Dant, Deborah Levy, Duncan McAfee, with photographic commissions by Claire Waffle and Brent Darby. Some of these were ephemeral, performance outcomes associated with the launch of the new memorial, while others reflect on different individuals and their personal contributions to the security of our nation.
The budget for the project of 490,000 GBP, represented considerable investment by Islington Borough in one of London’s precious green spaces.
‘This project has taught Greenspace and Leisure a valuable lesson about the way in which collaborations between different design disciplines, when structured and organised well, greatly enhances its potential. The role that artisits and designers can play in shaping these changes is something that I, and my department, are keen to see explored further’