London’s 7/7 memorial

Today sees the unveiling of a permanent memorial to the victims of the London terrorist bombings of July 7 2005. Typographer Phil Baines talks to CR about his involvement

Today sees the unveiling of a permanent memorial to the victims of the London terrorist bombings of July 7 2005. Typographer Phil Baines talks to CR about his involvement

The 7/7 memorial, which was designed by architects Carmody Groarke and commissioned by the UK Government’s Department for Culture, Media and Sport, features 52 pillars (or ‘stellae’), cast in rough textured stainless steel, each representing one of the victims. They are grouped together in four inter-linking clusters reflecting the four incidents, with each bearing an inscription of the date and location of the particular incident that its cluster represents, but not the name of the victim. Apparently, the names were left off in order to suggest the random nature of the attack – that it was indiscriminate. Instead, the names of the victimes are listed on a separate plaque. The memorial is located in the north-east corner of Hyde Park, close to Park Lane and Lover’s Walk.

Baines, who is Professor of Typography at Central St Martins, as well as being a leading typographer in his own right, was responsible for the lettering and its layout on the stellae and the plaque. “I was approached by Carmody Groarke along with two other designers/design groups in September last year, quite late in the whole design process,” he says. “I was selected after a couple of meetings where we discussed the brief, the problems of casting in stainless steel, my work to date, and possible approaches to the job. A full planning application had already been submitted by this point with the only items needing to be resolved were the lettering and the plaque material (carved granite in the application but changed to cast stainless steel shortly after I became involved).”

Drawing for the stellae lettering

What were the main considerations in the design? “From a lettering point of view the process was driven by considerations of practicality and aesthetics. The practical considerations were simply about what kind of shapes would cast well, and a sample casting using the foundry’s standard pattern letters was very informative – the letters shapes degraded slightly on the face as well as the sides, small counters had a tendency to fill-in. Aesthetic considerations centred on a wish by the architects to ‘suggest London’. In discussion we all agreed that we should not use Johnston which is too specifically TfL (the bombs may have targetted the transport network but this is not a TfL memorial) and has some very awkward details if you were to cast it as intended at the required size. One further consideration was that the Project Board had already suggested the serif typefaces Garamond and Perpetua – the latter was in the planning application – but when I saw the sample which used standard pattern letters I knew that neither would work, far too fussy.”

Casting the stellae at Nortons in Sheffield

“I decided to use the 19th Century, un-tutored, signmakers’ sanserif you see on buildings around the city as a starting point and draw a bespoke font for the job,” Baines explains. “The lettering is set in capitals-only to provide maximum character area.”

The plaque contains all 52 victims’ names the setting of which required all 26 letters of the alphabet.

On the plaque: “The centre point before names has a resonance with early inscriptional practice but works better visually with the long lines than full points or commas. The lettering is centred for formality, you couldn’t set it in columns due to the extreme difference in name lengths (from 5 to 30 letters in the first draft). Although we trialled a version with names broken across lines, which reflected the architects’ wish to create a field of names, this was felt to be insensitive by the Project Board. Lines therefore vary in length with the version used being the best balance that could be achieved in the space.”

“It had been decided that the stellae would not be personalised with names but only carry date, time and place of death and that a plaque would state what the memorial’s functional aim and list all the names. On the stellae are: orthography of date (7 July 2005, not the coloquial/MSWord ‘7th July 2005’) and the time as in 24hr clock (to avoid needing AM). A centre point is used as the time divider as it suits the vertical arrangement of letters better than full point. The letters read down like a British book spine.”

What does he hope that people will feel when visiting the monument? “I think they will find it calming, and enjoy the sensation of walking among it (the stellae are 3.5m high, and set at 1m centres). The other thing we noticed when taking bereaved relatives round Nortons (the founders in Sheffield) was that people like to touch it, because it’s trough-cast, each surface has a slightly different texture, and to accentuate the tactile effect, each is turned 90º to adjacent stellae.”

  • Lynne

    It’s amazing how simple, tactile and beautiful steel can be. A very strong and powerful way to remember the people that lost their life in such a tragic way. My thoughts are with the families.

  • Beautiful and fitting tribute. I think the most effective memorials are the ones that allow the visitor quiet contemplation and time to think like Berlin’s Holocaust memorial.

  • Very powerful memorial. When we are gone and our memories faded this will be a reminder to those lost.

  • Ruth Spiller

    This is a beautifully considered and beautifully crafted memorial. I would like to commend our government for investing in the memory of the people who died, all because of an individual’s alliegence to a religion that stands against every freedom we value.

  • This is a very beautiful memorial and my thoughts are with the families and friends of the victims of this terrible incident.

    I’m sorry to see that Ruth Spiller thinks that they died because of a “religion that stands against every freedom we value”.

    Although I am an atheist, I will still stand up for the religion and say that this is not the intention of Islam. There are many misconceptions on Islam, and these are always brought to the forefront of the media. Please don’t be so quick to judge.

  • PatrickBurgoyne

    Can we please confine comments to a discussion of the memorial and its merits and not stray into theological matters. Thanks 

  • Tabrez Ahmad

    Sorry! A nerve was touched.

  • Paul

    This is a wonderful memorial. Quiet, beautiful, proud and strong.

    [Comment edited by moderator, see request above to stick to discussion of the memorial and not religion]

  • Paul

    I saw your request after I submitted my comment. Apologies.

  • Joan H. Murray

    Absolutely beautiful and so fitting. I love it.

  • Steve Price

    a fitting and lasting tribute? by our government? well, even a stopped clock tells the right time twice a day.

    censorship, creative review? tut-tut.

  • PatrickBurgoyne

    @Steve Price
    Nothing to do with censorship and everything to do with ensuring that the discussion doesn’t get sidetracked.

  • Robin Howie

    I really appreciate this, the typographic restraint is absolutely fantastic when the material makes it absolutely visceral.
    Good decision in not overdoing the reference to TfL; and I think the nod to Johnston with the diamond bullet points is both touching and spot on; it’s great how minutiae of detail add context and brevity. Great Job

  • WorldWeary

    I heard an interview with one of the parents of the victims on Radio4 this morning, and she was very positive about the memorial.

    But while it’s arguably more important that those directly connected with the attacks consider it an appropriate memorial to their love ones, I have some major issues with the memorial’s design.

    A planning application system that allows a late change from carved granite to cast steel isn’t worth the candle. That isn’t a small change. That’s a major design decision, that alters the whole character and tactility of the piece.

    Not putting the names of the victims on the individual pillars necessitates there being a separate plaque. So the designers have effectively created a piece of work that needs its own label, like a painting in a gallery. Surely the piece could, and should, have been designed so it spoke for itself? The plaque feels like an after thought, tacked on, like the statues of the three soldiers at the Vietnam Memorial in Washington, which were included after conservatives complained about the sterility of the walls of names. (Then a very avant-garde piece of landscape design – now common place).

    Having only four designs of pillar inscription (one for each site) would have certainly saved money, but I would be bitterly disappointed if that was the real reason behind omitting the names. But not surprised.

    There are other quibbles, about the sterile ‘7 July 2005’ instead of reflecting the spoken word ‘seventh July’ – what’s is wrong with including a ‘th’, even in the same point size?
    (As a footnote, I would assert that they were the ‘7th July attacks’, not ‘7/7 attacks’ as some quarters of the media insist on dubbing them. The fact that American format places the month before the day makes adopting this format even more misguided in a British context).

    Likewise, the use of centre point between the time urks me. I appreciate that it’s centrally justified, but it now looks like a catalogue number, not a time. Show me the clock or watch that uses one point to divide hour and minute. Artistic licenses should sometimes be revoked.

    The end result looks, to my eyes, like a collection of spare components left over from constructing the Jubilee Line. Next time you descend down the escalators at Waterloo just glance at the walls.

    Surely the deceased deserve better than what is little more than a forest of street furniture, planted in one of London’s finest parks?

    I just hope all the victim’s families are as happy as the lady I heard on the Radio this morning.

  • Why do the victims of terrorism deserve a memorial any more than the victim of a drunk or careless driver. They are all stupid unnecessary deaths. As for the type. It looks like the type on a thousand other memorials and corporate HQ’s around the world. Get a life. As for the memorial. More new clothes for the emperor. It looks like the remaining steel pillars after a bunker has been blown up. Just look at it, it is ghastly. Now get down and stand on the plinth in Trafalgar Square for Gormly to complete your cultural experience. Tate next? It’s all a joke isn’t it, please tell me it is, please.

  • Fran

    Basildon Blogger
    There’s no hierarchy in terms of ‘significance’ when it comes to unnecessary losses, this was one tragedy that not only touched thousands of individuals through personal connections to the incident, but also shocked a city as a whole. Its social impact was greater in one swoop than a one-off accident. It was a mass attack that unnecessarily claimed the lives of many and affected the lives and day-to-day realities of countless more.
    So no. This is not a joke.

  • Thank you Fran, but you miss the point. Monuments to some awful human tragedy exempt themselves from criticism by becoming one with the event. So if you criticize the monument you are somehow callously criticizing the worthiness of the victims right to be memorialized at all. Which, I certainly am not.
    To say that fifty deaths are more important than one is philosophically dubious moral reasoning. I mean tell me Fran how many deaths or the causes warrant a memorial? Remember the scene from The Third Man when he is on the big wheel? How many deaths does it take before it matters? How many old people died of hypothermia last winter. But that isn’t worth a memorial so their deaths are less important, they are expendable. And let’s not even mention Diana and the absurd spectacle of the Kensington Palace compost heap, she got a stream as memorial. But that is how society or the mayor makes a decision. Who in the meeting to consider the question of shall we have a memorial at all would have said no? Oh okay then no memorial the money would be better spent on something else. Memorials are logically pretty useless to the dead to whom they are dedicated unless you have some strange idea that they are looking down. No memorials are to remind you of the caring side of the living. Remember Brown’s smile on YouTube? My point is about what a lot of hot air about the metal type you can see in any cemetery especially in Germany and a set of posts you see in almost any children’s play park. Let’s care the type to death. That’s how much we care. We should have let Banksy do it but that would be disrespect man and he’s sold out anyway. There is a timidity and paucity of ideas that does not do justice to the purpose to which they aspire. Me I’d put up memorials to the unknown cyclist, the unknown suicide and the unknown drug addict the only difference being that they would be as durable as a cobweb. Now let’s talk about the Trafalgar Square plinth. The world gone mad. And where is Trafalgar and who is the bloke on the column? Me I’d put a line of type along the side of the plinth that says. ‘Look in ward for the most distant view’ from Words are not things. Typeface? Who cares.

  • Basildon, can I have some?

  • Yes

  • Phil Baines

    Re World weary’s comments.
    Very few large-scale planning applications are complete in every detail at submission. They are subject to a review process and discussion period with the relevant planning officer and other interested parties, the design revisions such as plaque material and lettering were part of that process in the regular way. The plaque is now stainless steel (but treated slightly differently) like the stellae, and like them, the lettering is integral not a separate process.
    There was much discussion about names on stellae vs names on a plaque but it was all early on before my involvement. Anthony Gormley was involved in those early stages as ‘artistic advisor’. What removing them from the stellae does though, is make it far more accessible to a wider public, those who survived, those who were nearby etc. The survivors were not very involved but those I did speak to on Tuesday were very positive about this inclusivity.
    Let’s see how it beds down, it was so good on Tuesday to see it full of people at last.

  • ed smart

    Thank goodness, we can all start promoting tobacco and arms and open-cast mining again – no… no.., now calm down – it’s OK, Patrick says its OK to not think of the bigger issues – mmmm, nice (actually we all know its very very very very very dull) typography, Phil! Gosh, what a problem you faced – mm, no, let’s think about this… NOT Garamond or Perpetua – how about this little subversive anonymous number… More f++++ng Chablis, daaalings? Yes, what a tragedy… More f++++ng Chablis, daaalings?
    Are we not designers? We are DEVO. By the way Phil your comments on 2009-07-09 09:33:39 were appalling. You sounded like one of those planning officers who won’t allow you to erect a garden fence but allow the most destructive fatcat developments to go ahead. Get a grip, we’re not stupid.

    Fussy? Moi? So remove me Mr Motivator.

  • ed smart

    What I meant to say was – this should not have been an exercise in typographic w+++++g. The result is, I think (somewhat like Basildon Blogger, for instance) far from iconic, let alone all the problems surrounding this loaded message, which Mr Baines should have reacted against, not treated as an intellectual problem to be solved by what has turned out to be the most vacuous of . Never mind the atrocity, just check out those – count ’em – 26 boring capital letters cast in a really pedantic “untutored” style.

    A wheelbarrow of Marlboro (er, make it the healther option – Lights) for Mr Burgoyne, please. Or he’ll zip our mouths for us, and no mistake.

  • ed smart

    No. 19082456738 WorldWeary, are you sick of Street Furniture? Come to the BarneyBubbles death emporium and get some help from the experts! Yes! That’s right! Two Stellae (shurely “stelae”) for the price of one! Lovingly cast in dull grey concrete (or, fetchingly, “distressed” metal – oh, the irony) – and guess what – this month only – totally guilt-free “designer” extras! Absolutely NO critical thought applied! PLUS – get this kalashnikov-motifed moulded Afghan Helmand Province medallion ABSOLUTELY FREE! Lovingly typeset in Old Style Times Extra Bold Italic with 8 point keyline, with the name of your loved one thoughtfully removed! OFFENDS NO-ONE – GUARANTEED!

    There’s more – order today and get this AMAZING set of blinkers – never get the point nor see blindingly obvious political anomalies again! Typeset all you like in bastardised Gill Sans and never hear a bad word said! ACT NOW!!!!!

  • LK

    Ed Smart, why such animosity and contempt and Basildon Blogger, WorldWeary to lesser extents? Ed to write three back to back ‘blogs’ you really must harbor strong latent issues, but what was your point ? The fair-ground strap lines fall on deaf ears I’m afraid. Fran thank you for stepping in to re-align the point.
    Creative Review, there is of course a fine balance to censorship, however this blogging forum ought not descend to playgorund chanting.

  • Aly

    From a purely design perspective I dont think the memorial is that great. Its like 100 other memorials Ive seen dotted around the world. Not very original, in my opinion.

  • What ever we personally think about the memorial it will mean a lot to the family’s of the bereaved that society has made an effort to remember them.

  • ed smart

    Thanks to LK and Trevor for the reminder to clarify the point – it’s not about anger towards the concept, nor political/moral motives, it’s that 19c/20c UK war memorials have a strong intellectual, design and aesthetic heritage/history and that this one perhaps falls short of what a major high-ticket talent like Phil Baines (who I greatly respect as a typographer) should have made of it. Perhaps he was hobbled by Groupthink, I don’t know. But playground chanting it ain’t – 8 killed today – how would you turn up at the parent’s door tonight, LK? What would you offer them? Regurgitated Gill Sans on anonymous sticks? I don’t think you’d get away with that. Sorry to have offended your deaf ears.
    By the way if you want an ex-tank commander’s comprehensive guide to the design and situation of uk-wide war memorials I’d be happy to point you in the right direction.

  • LK

    Ed, thank you for the return to a considered and comprehensible tone.
    There are a couple of subtleties that you may have of missed, which reading several articles and blogs as well as visiting the memorial I think would deserve inclusion in your comment.
    Yes, memorials are dense with political accusation and connotation, the balance of reference or abstraction is a complicated design or conception issue, especially when appeasing a collective. As the most fundamental of gestures, memoria is so very important to be creatively reviewed. So whilst you may defend your chants, they lacked the experience you now infer; instead having undertones not of Chablis but moonshine.

    I do not interpret the 7th July piece as a war memorial on the terms you suggest. The fifty-two fatal victims of these four bombs were civilians innocently caught up in a sham-political military quagmire far older than Iraq or even the misguided decisions of 1884’s Berlin Conference, although strangely not dissimilar to Punch’s cartoon of 1878 – the Great Bear Vs The Lion, where Afghanistan is caught in the middle of something it did not create. Importantly these victims did not profess heroism or valour, instead futility of human mortality; there can be no expression like that of Jagger’s order.

    The great work you praise of the Commonwealth War Graves Commission is ostensibly wholly prioritised to the memory of fallen soldiers, airman and sailors, not civilians. Their work through out the 19 & 20c is neither comparable nor conceivable to the circumstances which today’s society now begins to try and re-align its grief, and with very little experience. in contrast to the essay in noble reference at the Colchester Memorial. The antithesis are the recent stark examples of civil memory, which deal with great difficulty the association of guilt and use scale-to-bare, as did Eisenman at the Jewish Holocaust Memorial in Berlin dominating an entire city block.
    Where were you as one of the Grunt, when Mallacks RTR Memorial didn’t quite go To The Green Fields And Beyond, Swinton would certainly be displeased.

    It is however not the duty of memory to compare quantity, rather recognise that a single death is one too many.
    The profound balance of reference or abstraction, anonymity or identification is a subtlety which greater and more humble memorials have achieved. Ought a civic memorial identify individual loss at all? The cenotaph does not, instead with the addition of eight figures layers another palimpsest grain in memoriam. At another great Lutyens work, the Merchant Seamen’s Memorial, a maturity exists to leave empty panels, for we all know the list is not final.

    So Ed, if I were to deliver a Eulogy tomorrow under any ‘lid’ I would not offer Horace, Blake or Wordsworth… but Keats: “We hate poetry that has a palpable design upon us,”.

  • Sheila Kent

    Please correct the information given – the memorial is in the SOUTH EAST corner of Hyde Park ,close to the Achilles statue , ( Nearest underground station Hyde Park Corner on Piccadilly Line)

  • Crister Lundberg

    My reaction when I saw this creation was: My God, this is a reference to ground zero.
    Aren´t these pillars the steel columns of the twin towers recycled?
    Are these forefingers peeking at us saying: “You will never get to know the truth?”

  • rhizanne

    really powerful memorial and my thoughts are with the families and friends of the victims of this terrible incident.

  • Abby McFaul

    I visited the site today for the first time. Fascinated by the impact that the work has despite being very minimal – although I am not sure that minimal is the right word. The inscriptions were really inviting from both a visual and tactile perspective.

    I liked the fact that all of the names were together and unified. I may not have read all of the names had they been inscribed on each individual pillar. The steel surprised me. I wasn’t really sure what the material was to be honest. I liked that I had to go up close to understand the work fully.

  • Marion White

    I saw the memorial for the first time on television today — the 10th anniversary. I was shocked. Visually it is one of the least inspiring pieces of public art I have seen. I can only hope that it has more emotional impact when visited in person. I am elderly (74) so perhaps my reactions are “fuddy duddy” but for me art is nourishment for my soul so I want it to provide an emotional and thought provoking reaction — and, preferably, bring beauty into our lives.