Bethnal Green Memorial | Arboreal Architecture

| 15 : 00 – 26 March 2018 |

Green tube memorial, Aerial view

Bethnal Green Memorial dedicated to victims of 1943 civilian disaster designed by London-based Arboreal architecture firm recently won the RIBA London Award 2018.

Designed to commemorate the worst civilian disaster of World War II, the memorial stands in the vicinity of the Bethnal Green Tube station in London. Architect Harry Paticas of Arboreal Architecture whose dedication and grit of over 12 years got this memorial to fruition earned him the RIBA Project Architect of the Year 2018. The memorial standing on a concrete plinth is a artwork consisting of an overhanging stairway of 18 connected wooden steps. The names of disaster victims are etched on the wooden surface.

Bethnal Green Memorial, Wooden structure, concrete plinth

An onlooker stands reads information written on the bronze plates

The staircase also bears 173 holes so that light can shine through, to represent each of the victims.

The event –

As per the facts stated,  on the 3rd March 1943 a crowd of people were waiting to enter the underground air raid shelter. Suddenly they heard deafening sound of a rocket fired for the first time from the nearby Victoria Park. On the wet, slippery stairway a woman with a child fell and others tumbled over her. Unable to see the horror of what was unfolding below, people standing near entrance panicked and continued pressing and falling over each other. Within seconds the whole staircase had a crowd of over 300 people trapped  were crushed and asphyxiated to death. Tragically, this chaos costs lives of 173 people died including 84 women, 62 children and 27 men.

Following the disaster, the families of the victims were prohibited from speaking out due to ongoing war. An official enquiry was held days after the disaster but was kept secret. Victims were told by officials not to talk about it and the story was subsequently suppressed.  The witness statements recorded at later stage and various documents, continued to be classified and were only recently made public. All these years since the incident a plaque fixed to the staircase quietly acknowledged the deaths.

Entry to underground Bethnal green tube station

At mid day, the holes cast a light toward the stairwell © Arboreal Architecture

In 2006, 63 years after the event, Architect Harry Paticas noticed the discreet plaque. Eventually upon further research, he strongly felt that a more fitting memorial was needed to acknowledge the victims, their families and survivors. So from there on apart from design and structural co-ordination, it took a laborious 11 years of grit, research, investigation, revelations, meeting victim’s families and survivors, raising money through Stairway to Heaven Memorial Trust, negotiations with water, gas and electric authorities which led the memorial stand in its place !

Design – 

The concept showcasing the hollow space within the stairwell was created by lifting up of inverted concrete stairs based on a supporting plinth. The stairwell built from sustainably sourced teak wood has 173 conical-shaped holes in the roof.  At midday these holes cast a light toward the stairwell where the tragedy occurred. Bronze plates fixed to the concrete plinth have extracts from the accounts of survivors and victim’s families. The twisted plinth towards the base forms into bench for people to sit, pause, read and reflect upon the stories.

CAD drawings, Location of Bethnal Memorial

Location and Site plan © Arboreal Architecture


Holes in a wooden surface

173 conical shaped holes in the roof ©ALondoninheritance

Built with infinite level of finish and detail,  the sculptural memorial is a striking example of monumental symbolism to remember the forgotten ones. As per RIBA London – ‘The project would not have happened without the architect going way beyond the extent of simply ‘doing his job’ !

Stepped wooden profile, Bethnal green memorial

Inverted stairwell made from sustainable solid teak © Arboreal Architecture


CAD drawings, Elevations, Bethnal green memorial

Side elevations of the memorial © Arboreal Architecture


Hollow inverted stairwell bearing names of the victims © Arboreal Architecture

Project details –


Project Name – Bethnal Green Memorial

Architect  – Arboreal Architecture |

Lead Architect – Harry Paticas

Project location – Bethnal Green subway, Cambridge Heath Rd, East End, London, UK

Client name – Stairway to Heaven Memorial Trust

Project type – Memorial, Monument

Internal area – 98 m² (As there is no internal floor area the external landscape site area has been used)

Photography – © Harry Paticas / Arboreal Architecture

Consultants –

Contractor – Coniston Limited

Structural Engineers – The Morton Partnership

Specialist Timber Designers and Fabricators –The Greenoak Carpentry Company

Typography – Atelier Dreibholz

Access Consultant – Access=Design

Environmental / M&E Engineers – Max Fordham

Quantity Surveyor / Cost Consultant – Aecom


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