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Memorials as Spaces of Engagement

Each year millions in public and private funding are spent on memorials. This research explores how effective these works are in engaging the public.

Funded by a Future Fellowship from the Australian Research Council, this research explores how changes in the design, location and public use of memorials over recent decades have helped forge closer, richer relationships between commemorative sites and their visitors. The project combines first hand analysis of key cases with material drawn from existing multi-disciplinary scholarship. Examples from the US, Canada, Australia and Europe include official, formally designed memorials as well as informal ones created by the public without official sanction. This analysis of memorials raises important issues for the design, management and planning of future memorials and public spaces in general.

The research has extended into an exploration of the variety of complex and contested decision-making processes that shape the planning of new memorials, including ‘grassroots’ initiatives that bypass formal procedures. Public memorials are among the elements of our built environment whose designs engender the most intense public scrutiny and debate. By looking at a range of recent, contentious memorial case studies in Australia and the United States, the research is developing a general model of the memorial development process and identifying a set of key decisions made within it. This analysis suggests when and how decisions in memorial procurement offer opportunities for creative friction among stakeholders, with potential to enhance memory, social identity, cohesion, and the quality of the public realm, by generating innovative and more widely acceptable design outcomes.

Related design practice research involves consultation, design and production of a range of new kinds of informal, unofficial memorials. This work has a particular focus on how creative practice processes address the varied clients and stakeholders for these objects, including mourners, the general public, and government agencies. Creative practice is used to explore the ethical dimensions of design processes, both generally and in the specific context of commemoration.


Research Team
Quentin Stevens, Shanti Sumartojo and Tal Mor Sinay
Research Collaborators
Karen A. Franck (New Jersey Institute of Technology, SueAnne Ware (University of Newcastle), Mirjana Ristic (University of Melbourne)
Date: 2010- Current
Status: Current