Editorial: Ideas for war memorial underwhelm

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Critics worry Auckland Council's shortlist of designs do not reflect brief for quiet, passive and contemplative area in the Domain.
Perhaps the city could do with more colourful and kinetic sculptures around its public places but hardly as a monument to World War I. Photo / Supplied
Perhaps the city could do with more colourful and kinetic sculptures around its public places but hardly as a monument to World War I. Photo / Supplied

The world is now well into centennial commemorations of the Great War that lasted more than four years. New books appeared in 2014 about the beginnings of the war and more were published last year on the Gallipoli campaign. Countless television documentaries have been made and newspaper features produced.

Doubtless more books, films and features will appear this year on the battles of 1916 and so it will go on - as the terrible trench warfare went on - and on, until the centenary of the armistice of November 1918.

The sheer length of the centennial ensures it will be unforgettable but in Auckland the council believes we will need something more to remind us of the war. It plans an additional memorial of some form in the Domain. Last week it released a shortlist of possible designs for a "processional way" to be established on the grass slope in front of the museum - the War Memorial Museum.

It is hard to imagine how anything outside that splendid building could add very much to its presence on the city's landscape, the names of battles on its walls and the dignified flagstaff on the forecourt where crowds gather at dawn on Anzac Day. It is hard to imagine how any planting or processional way could improve on the simple lawn that can be seen below the museum from far away.

We reported last Saturday that those overseeing the centennial project are disappointed by the shortlisted designs.

The Field of Remembrance Trust chairman, David McGregor, said they had deviated from the brief given to prospective competitors, and Auckland Councillor Mike Lee, who chaired the centennial memorial working party voiced "some surprise" at the prominence of Maori elements. Maori fought and died in the war but not in disproportionate numbers to soldiers from the rest of the population.

More generally, their concerns are that the brief asked for a quiet, passive, contemplative sort of memorial but the designers have come up with schemes Mayor Len Brown calls innovative. "Like the use of sound, light and percussive sculptures." He says, "there are aspects about each concept that I think Aucklanders will really like". None of the five shortlisted designs need be chosen. The selected designer will be given the chance to work up a final proposal - in light of the public response - which must be made by January 24.

The response in our correspondence columns so far is to wonder whether Auckland needs another memorial to the war. That doubt is reinforced by the shortlisted designs.

If they have departed from the brief it is probably because the designers did not sense a need for another quiet, passive "stimulus to reflection". Rather they saw an opportunity to provide Auckland with more lively public art.

Perhaps the city could do with more colourful and kinetic sculptures around its public places but hardly as a monument to World War I, and not in that part of the Domain.

Auckland is already blessed with a stately white memorial building that looks down on a green sward with all the quiet, contemplative dignity its purpose deserves. Any additional digging and paving of that area would serve only a mistaken need to mark the centennial in some way.

We do not need memorials of this centenary. It carries its own commemoration.

- NZ Herald

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