After two days visiting the battle fields of the Somme, a visit to The Ring Of Remembrance, International WWI Memorial Of Notre-Dame-De-Lorette, is all the more poignant. This is a powerful memorial to the sacrifice of life made in the Great War. The structure is designed by Agence D’architecture Philippe Prost (AAPP) on behalf of the Conseil Regional Nord-Pas-De-Calais and won the RIBA Award for International Excellence in 2016.
For me this was not only a personal journey of discovery, visiting the battlefield where my great grandfather gave his life 100 years ago this month, it was also an opportunity to study the architecture of remembrance. The majority of the monuments we visited where built in the years immediately after the war and all are of their era. Always monumental, and often neo-classical in design. It was therefore interesting to see how my own generation of architects has sought to contribute.
Unlike most war memorials, where one moves around the monument, the names of the dead lining the outer walls, this structure draws you in, the names enclosing, wrapping and immersing you on all sides. It is a dramatic contrast. Everything external drops away. There is only the visitor and the 600,000+ names that enclose them.
The only relief to this is the dramatic moment when the ring cantilevers out and across a natural drop in the topography. This opens up glimpses of the battlefields beyond in the plains below. This moment leads to my only criticism. It is the entrance. It feels overly pragmatic that the entrance cuts through the sides of the ring, breaking the purity of the enclosure. It would surely have been more powerful to enter from below, from the ground, where the battle was fought. Entering under the ring one could then emerge fully enclosed and at the centre rather than at a specific point, with the inevitable hierarchy that this creates.
None of this diminishes the beauty, simplicity and power of the Ring of Remembrance. These are only the thoughts of an architect seeking to learn and, when the opportunity arises, try to achieve something greater still.