In a story first shared by The Times, English designer Thomas Heatherwick has reportedly been engaged in discussions with at least one governmental minister, Cabinet Office minister Chloe Smith, regarding a planned national memorial to honor the Britons lost during the coronavirus pandemic. The meeting between Heatherwick and Smith is said to have taken place earlier this year. Beyond this single meeting, no details of the memorial including its location, cost, what it would look like, or if Heatherwick has even been formally secured for the project, are known.
AN has reached out to Heatherwick’s eponymous London studio seeking comment and will update this story accordingly if additional details regarding his involvement are provided.
It would make sense if Heatherwick is indeed involved in the design of a COVID-19 memorial in some capacity. The designer is close with British Prime Minister Boris Johnson and past commissions include a number of high-profile projects in the British capital including the 2012 Summer Olympics and Paralympics Cauldron, which is now on permanent display at the Museum of London, as well as London’s New Routemaster double-decker bus—aka “the Boris Bus”—first introduced in 2012.
Perhaps most (in)famously, Heatherwick designed the failed Garden Bridge, a $270 million-plus private park and footpath over the River Thames that was widely derided and dismissed as a vanity project of then-London Mayor Johnson. Johnson’s successor, Sadiq Kahn, ultimately pulled the plug on the embattled project but only after taxpayers footed nearly $60 million for the scrapped span. (Heatherwick’s miniaturized American cousin of sorts to the Garden Bridge, Little Island, opened earlier this summer along New York City’s Hudson River.)
While there are no concrete plans at this point for a permanent, government-supported COVID-19 memorial in the United Kingdom, Johnson has publicly vocalized his support for one at St Paul’s Cathedral, the iconic Anglican cathedral that serves as the mother church of the Diocese of London. A campaign to raise funds for such a memorial has already been initiated.
“Like many across this chamber, I was deeply moved when I visited the Covid Memorial Wall opposite Parliament, and I wholeheartedly support the plan for a memorial in St Paul’s Cathedral, which will provide a fitting place of reflection in the heart of our capital,” Johnson told members of the House of Commons in May.
Hundreds of U.K. officials have also called on Johnson to declare the red heart-populated COVID Memorial Wall near Parliament along the River Thames, initially envisioned as a temporary collective work, a permanent fixture.
As of this writing, there have been roughly 129,000 reported deaths from the virus in the U.K.
Meanwhile in the United States, plans for a permanent national monument have not been ironed out although numerous local memorials of varying permanence have been realized or are in the works across the country, from the Jersey Shore to the grounds of the Kentucky capitol building, and dozens of points in between.