On 22 May 2017, 22 people – concertgoers and their loved ones waiting for them at Manchester Arena – had their lives taken in a terrorist atrocity. Many others sustained physical or mental injuries, some life-changing. The Glade of Light has been created as a memorial garden. It’s a place to reflect, to remember and a lasting testament to love.

Within a sunny glade, a halo of white stone floats above an ever-changing orchestration of plants. The simplicity of the circle references the infinite and the eternal. The Glade of Light is not figurative monumentalisation set within clipped lawns and hedges, but is part of a design movement that embraces a more dynamic and contemporary form of memorialisation. The abstracted design is ultimately an emotional, as well as an intellectual response, to the ineffability of sorrow and loss. 

The design is not a fixed thing on a plan, but consists of an ever-changing, living and shifting series of moments. It has become a significant place in the heart of Manchester for personal and communal remembrance, grieving and healing.

Nestled beneath the bronze hearts set around the marble halo are memory capsules holding special memories, private messages and meaningful mementoes. These memories will always be in the glade but are also hidden: deeply personal moments that only the families who provided them can truly understand. They are a private space in this public memorial.

The monumental marble blocks were carefully split into mirror image pairs, an ancient technique known as Macchia Aperta or ‘Open Book’, which mimics the bi-lateral symmetry we see in nature, such as the wings of a butterfly. Inspired by the colours and wild beauty of the nearby Peak District Heathlands, the planting within the sunny glade of grasses, heathers, bulbs and perennials changes throughout the year. In the dappled shade beneath the trees there are mosses, ferns, snowdrops, wood anemones and sages. Within the planting are ridges of weathered sandstone boulders, reminiscent of the High Peak ‘Scarps’. It is a wild and beautiful garden that embraces you within its reach, somewhere to feel connected to nature and where you can see the passing of the seasons.

Within the context of a sensitive conservation area with multiple listed and nationally significant buildings, along with a complex brief with multiple stakeholders and a challenging tight sloping site with multiple existing utilities and catacombs beneath – the designers have remained true to the purity and simplicity behind their original competition winning vision.

Inclusivity has been embedded in all aspects of the design and construction process, working closely with representatives of the bereaved families, survivors and a wider access working group to ensure input from a wide forum of interests. Through this process a number of key detailed design developments were incorporated into the final scheme, including: wider paths for two wheelchairs to pass, additional perch and timber backed seats, wheelchair spaces adjacent to seats, various arm-rest options and seats at different heights. The RNIB also contributed valuable insights into the interpretation signage, including braille details, font sizes and recommendations on viewing signage from a wheelchair. The size of the bronze names in the marble were also increased and moved closer to the front of the halo – so they could be easily read from a wheelchair and by the partially sighted.

Up-cycling the existing Yorkstone was a critical part of the (net) carbon neutrality vision for the project. A large existing pine tree was retained on site, with an additional 28 new semi-mature native trees planted to contribute to on-going carbon sequestration and mitigating climate change.

40% of the previous hard landscape [tarmac] has been replaced with a bio-diverse planting scheme and 28 new trees [approx. +10% BNG] to help reduce the urban heat-island affect in the vicinity and maximising adaptation to future climate changes. 

The project included the removal of an existing road and parking and replaced this with pedestrian areas and a cycle link, in turn reducing pollution and its negative impacts. Rainfall landing on the site is also directed in to planting beds with a sustainable urban drainage system beneath, to help reduce stormflow to surrounding drains, naturally filter water and reduce the need to water the plants.

The scheme will become climate positive in approx. 33 years time, with a net Carbon Impact over 50 years of between 27-28,000 kg C02 sequestered. 50% of the hard landscape from the previous site area has been replaced with a bio-diverse planting mix with SUD System beneath. 

The Glade of Light is a beautiful contemporary memorial landscape with an emotional power and honesty. It has become a significant place in the heart of Manchester for visitors from all over the world to engage with the personal and communal process of remembrance, grieving and healing.

Other design office involved in the design: Smiling Wolf

Location: Glade of Light, Victoria St, Manchester, UK, post-code = M3 1SX

Design year: 2020

Year Completed: 2022


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