The Nottingham Progressive Jewish Congregation needed, on its breathtaking cemetery site at Wilford Hill overlooking Nottingham, an appropriate form for commemorating its members and those important to them that were not buried on the site. The design had to embody essential qualities of the congregation, its approach and the Jewish attitude towards life and death.
The client’s long standing relationship with Alina Hughes and 2hD Architects led to an unusual design path, starting with an early student competition at Nottingham Trent University. Born from involved community consultations with the students, the winning idea that most resonated with the client belonged to Igor Barteczko; it was then taken forward by 2hD to be designed in the site context, refined, detail designed and metamorphosed to reflect the nature of the building material chosen, and finally to see the project made reality whilst safeguarding its essential qualities. Close attention to details and features was also paid by the architects, to make the experience of the memorial natural and meaningful.
The rural setting of the proposal required sensitive treatment and the submitted design was rewarded by obtaining planning permission with no conditions beyond the legal time constraint and adhering to the materials proposed. A Minor Works JCT contract was used for a project spanning over four months and delivered within the tight budget allocated.
The unusual form of the memorial and the desired natural effect of the Clipsham limestone chosen ruled out most conventional builders, with only craftsmen-stonemasons making the shortlist. The way-finding through the project’s complexities was as expected involving on all sides – with the contractor, architects, original student, engineer and client offering invaluable contributions along the way. The architect’s tenacity, problem-solving and negotiating skills whilst preserving the project’s conceptual and experiential integrity, the client’s trust and cooperation and the contractor’s state-of-the-art craftsmanship – were all put to the test, successfully. Sketching was an essential communication tool throughout the design process, not just with builders on and off site, but also with the client and consultants. This was combined with drawing generated from a precise CAD-model, in particular key cross-sections along a continuously changing wall and templates enabling the cutting of the variable coping stones.
Essential to the way the project is experienced is its siting, which affords a narrative progression up to the memorial. There is a sense of being in a special place for reflection away from the world while the varying height of the wall offers vistas over the hill and the city. The result is a client who has felt empowered by the process and is enthralled by the resulting architecture. This small building thus goes a long way in proving that small budgets and small scale can articulate fruitfully with a strong design force to do justice to both a stunning site and an close community.
The memorial design shows a sensitive response to the site, whilst balancing the client’s needs for a protective enclosure, carefully orchestrated views and a detachment from the everyday. The project employed a local consultant – Nottingham engineers Price and Myers – and regional contractor team and materials sourced from as close to the site as possible.
The initial ideas competition design brief, developed by 2hD’s Alina Hughes in discussion with the client, considered the option of a fully enclosed structure with services included. Yet the client’s irregular use of the memorial rendered disproportionate the need for embodied, running and maintenance energy involved in a fully enclosed and serviced building, especially on a site without existing services infrastructure. The decision, consistent with Jewish beliefs and traditions relating to life and death, was thus for the structure to remain open to the elements and for the masonry to have an unfinished quality both appropriate to the context and welcoming weathering through careful detailing. The memorial has thus achieved the client’s brief with a streamlined use of materials and energy – in construction, transport and running terms – whilst nurturing traditional craftsmanship and masonry skills in the area.Location: UK Architects: 2hD Architects