Previous stateAblain-Saint-Nazaire is a small town in the Pas-de-Calais department of Northern France, known for the macabre feature of having more tombs than inhabitants. The hill of Notre-Dame-de-Lorette, on the outskirts of the town and listed as cultural and natural heritage, has been France’s largest burial site since the end of the First World War. In the centre of the cemetery, a hermitage and a fifty-metre-high-beacon is a reminder that in this conflict more than half a million soldiers fighting under different flags lost their lives on the battlefields of this old region of Nord-Pas-de-Calais (which has recently been included within the bounds of Nord-Pas-de-Calais-Picardie). In 2011, the regional administration chose the promontory of Notre-Dame-de-Lorette to build a monument as a place where three years laterthey would commemoratethe first centenary of the outbreak of the “Great War”.
Aim of the interventionThe regulations of the international competition stipulated that the memorial should be an open space of free access. It was to show the names of all the soldiers who fell in Nord-Pas-de-Calais, in alphabetical order without any distinction of rank and nationality. Moreover, the work of constructing the memorial had to be done in a very limited time and strictly adhere to a budget of less than five and a half million euros.
DescriptionNamed “Ring of Memory”, the winning project envisaged crowning the hill of Notre-Dame-de-Lorette with an oval-shaped structure to contrast with the vertical presence of the nearby beacon. The elliptical ring would display the names of all the victims along the length of a 328-metre route. The gallery containing the names is of C-shaped section: Its contrasts a dark, opaque vertical wall with the outside landscapeand focusesattention on the empty centralspace of the ring. The two horizontal wings of the C-shaped section project from the vertical support of the structure. The upper wing thus acts as a shelter protectingvisitors from the rain. The lower one provides a platform for walking on when the topography falls away leaving one side of the oval suspended in a sixty-meter cantilever. This structural challenge was met by means of a beam made of the very latest type of fibre reinforced concrete.
AssessmentThe International Memorial of Notre-Dame-de-Lorette is a monument imbued with pacifism. Its oval shape set over the landscape brings old enemies together in a fraternal, unitary embrace. Inside the gallery, the alphabetical order of their names proclaims the same brotherhood, while the focusing of views towards the empty central space is an invitation to reflect on the folly of so many deaths. Finally, the precariousness suggested by the cantilevered section is a reminder of the fragility of European peace. The “Ring of Memory” returns from the past loaded with wise warnings for the present and future.
David Bravo │ Translation by Julie Wark
[Last update: 18/06/2018]