Tuesday 26 October 2010

A national library to honour The Queen

Every year a million people visit the Diana, Princess of Wales Memorial Fountain in Hyde Park. I wonder how many of these people are as mightily disappointed as I was when I first saw this underwhelming monument to modern day political correctness?

The fountain was built to reflect Diana's life, so the website tells us. Considering the huge outpouring of grief from the nation when she died, you would have thought we could have done better then this. If only the millions spent on flowers left in town squares and outside civic centres from Bodmin to Bridlington had gone towards a more memorable memorial.

A little over a year ago I visited Washington DC - this is a city that has mastered the art of building a good memorial.  The grandly termed National Mall is littered with them including the iconic (Lincoln and Jefferson memorials), the stark (Vietnam War) and haunting (Korean War).  

While all of these confidently put the paddling pool in Hyde Park to shame, and the Queen is certainly deserving of something equally impactful, it is in Boston, the home of American independence where we can find the model for the Queen Elizabeth National Library.  

Just outside Boston, on a wind swept sea shore, is the JFK Presidential library. This rather unfortunate building is home to an archive of official documents, which constitute the library, as well as a museum. It is one of the most inspirational places I have ever visited.  

The key events in JFK's presidency are covered using historical documents, video footage and audio of JFK himself and other important players. Subjects as diverse as civil rights and the Cuban missile crisis sit side by side with a selection of Jackie Kennedy's dresses.  You are transported back to the early 1960s and also get a sense of the impact JFK's time in office had on America.
If all this is achievable based on a few short years imagine what could be put together detailing The Queen's 50 plus years as Monarch. I think it would be fantastic if we could look to commission this to mark the Queen's Diamond Jubilee in 2012. Ideally we should look to a completion date not too long after. It would be wonderful if The Queen could enjoy opening this commemoration to her public service.

This national memorial and library should be a celebration of all that this country has achieved, and all the changes, that have occurred during the past 50 years. It should be educational but this doesn't mean that political correctness needs to sap the life out of the project. Every community in the country will have a story to tell of how The Queen has touched their lives in some way. At the same time this country is in many ways unrecognisable to the UK of 1952. There have been so many achievements and advances during this time. From science to sport via arts and our place in the world. This should be a true celebration of Britishness.  

Two final thoughts. We must reflect the current financial times in planning such a project. Therefore I would like to see this project financed by public subscription and corporate donations. This is how all major memorials are funded in the US, tax deductible of course, and it works. I would also like to see a truly formidable business minded figure put in charge of driving this project from the beginning. If a committee is put in charge we'll end up with a Millenium Dome. We don't want that, The Queen and the country doesn't deserve this.

Finally, to ensure public buy in to the project, we should run a competition on where the Queen Elizabeth National Library should be built. London is home to many great museums and The Queen is Monarch to all of the UK. Allow cities to compete against each other. Let them put the case why they are deserving to host what could become, and should be, one of the finest memorials ever created.

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