The Tree of Trees jubilee sculpture is yet another mound of ill-judged public art | Rowan Moore

The Tree of Trees, an object to be erected outside Buckingham Palace for the Queen’s jubilee, is, according to the studio of its designer, Thomas Heatherwick, a “sculpture” that “seeks to put the importance of trees and nature at the heart of this historic milestone”. Here I’ll pass by the abuse of metaphors (do milestones have hearts?) but not of trees, this being another case of certain designers’ mania for picking them up, moving them around and putting them where they don’t want to be.

This 21 metre-high steel structure will carry 350 small trees, planted in aluminium pots, which will be distributed around the country after the jubilee. It is approximately tree-shaped, but this awkward, angular construction is not much like an actual living organism. It is a tree emoji realised with structural engineering. It has strong vibes of the Marble Arch Mound, the disastrous artificial hill erected last year. Here, as there, a cartoon version of nature is placed in a London ceremonial space by people who don’t seem to have thought much about what it is that makes trees lovely.

Those words from the studio also take liberties with the idea of art. They call the Tree of Trees a “sculpture”. Boris Johnson may once have compared Heatherwick to Michelangelo, but David it is not.

Trump takes the pip

Tomatoes – ‘dangerous stuff’.
Tomatoes – ‘dangerous stuff’. Photograph: Helios4Eos/Getty Images/iStockphoto

In other news from the plant kingdom, it has emerged that Donald Trump was so scared of being injured by fruit that he urged his security to attack protesters. “You can get killed with those things,” he said, in a deposition to a New York court. “Tomatoes are bad, by the way. But it’s very dangerous… pineapples, tomatoes, bananas, stuff like that, yeah, it’s dangerous stuff.”

It’s hard not to make a comparison with Volodymyr Zelenskiy, the man whom Trump once tried to bully into manufacturing political smears. The Ukrainian leader braves hit squads and bombs in Kyiv; the former US president cowers from tomatoes.

Memorial misstep

The proposed UK Holocaust Memorial in London’s Victoria Tower Gardens, planning permission for which has been overturned by the high court.
The proposed UK Holocaust Memorial in London’s Victoria Tower Gardens, planning permission for which has been overturned by the high court. Photograph: UK Holocaust Memorial/PA

Last month, the high court overturned the decision of the government to grant planning permission to the proposed UK Holocaust Memorial and Learning Centre. Its problem was with the location in Victoria Tower Gardens, a small, Grade II-listed park next to parliament. The court found that the proposal breached a 1900 law that required the gardens to be kept as open space. As has been clear since David Cameron announced the plan more than six years ago, the scale of the proposal would be devastating to a small and vulnerable garden. The biggest problem is not the memorial itself, but the decision to accompany it with a learning centre, which requires the construction of a substantial enclosed building.

It is heart-rending that there has been such a waste of energy, resources and goodwill, through lengthy planning processes and a public inquiry, to reach what should always have been an obvious conclusion.

But there is now the chance to create something worthy of the catastrophe the memorial is meant to remember. The learning centre could be located somewhere else, most obviously the Imperial War Museum, which already has outstanding galleries dedicated to the Holocaust. Conceivably a memorial, if it consists of a landscape or of one of more objects rather than a building, could yet be built in the gardens without contravening the 1900 law.

On Friday, it was announced that the government has appealed against the high court’s decision, which is a pity. It should rather take the opportunity of its verdict to apply the intelligence and sensitivity that it should have shown at the outset.

Rowan Moore is the Observer’s architecture correspondent

Leave a Comment