Contemporary memorial landscape: how to convey meaning through design. A study based on cases from London and Palestine
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Minimalism in contemporary memorial design has been criticised for being meaningless and inappropriate in creating powerful monuments (Long, 2007). However, abstraction in modern art and landscape design can appeal to the human ‘subconscious’, which inspires design and enriches the experience of viewers and visitors (Jellicoe, 1966, 1970, 1993). This study investigated the meanings and the values that contemporary memorials hold through theoretical and empirical study, by which means of ‘collective identity’, individual and community engagement are enriched. This notion of engagement in contemporary memorial was examined based on the psychological theories s of ‘transaction’ (Altman and Rogoff, 1987; Dewey and Bentley, 1949; Pepper, 1942, 1967) and ‘personal projects’ (Little, 1983). Some other notions, such as ‘anti-memorial’, ‘personalisation’ and ‘mirroring’, drawn from memorial design, environmental psychology and philosophy of art, were discussed in relation to the main theoretical background. Accordingly, this research drew a distinction between the classical memorial, where symbolic representation is viewed in isolation from the viewers and their internal cognition, and the contemporary memorial landscape with its potential for transaction and shared memory, in which a spectator becomes a participant. As memorial design is a complex and multi-layered process, a memorial project for Palestinian displacement was conducted as a complementary part to the main scientific research. It offered a complementary approach to the conventional scientific inquiry, where the research situation is not a problem to be solved, but an enquiry whose problematic situations are characterised by ‘uncertainty’, ‘disorder’ and ‘indeterminacy’ (Schon, 1983). The collection methods for qualitative and quantitative data were observation and behavioural mapping in conjunction with theory of ‘affordances’ and the ‘personal projects’ questionnaire of memorial users. Data was collected from three memorial landscapes in London: the Princess Diana Memorial Fountain (PDMF), the 7 July Memorial (7JM) and the John F. Kennedy Memorial (JFKM). They vary in scale, design approach and process. Applying these methods enabled the researcher to attain more insights into memorial behavioural settings and their possible affordances and transactional properties. Key results of the data analysis showed that PDMF had high levels of transaction and a cathartic nature through qualities of playfulness, bodily involvement and social value. While the success of this memorial mainly lay in its cathartic and grieving quality, the ceremonial phallic design of 7JM and the allegorical landscape of JFKM did prove to create successful and powerful memorials through both their didactic and cathartic dimensions. The text and lettering embossed on the design elements helped these to occur simultaneously. The intended outcome of this research was to contribute to the recent development of the way contemporary designers and artists should approach memorial design. This was in the form of design guidelines and statements, which allowed individuals and communities to gain access to what a memorial could symbolise. This could be achieved through memorial physical forms representing different meanings associated with the commemorated subject, and by addressing the memorial design process in relation to both users’ perception and designer’s intention.