Mass Extinction Memorial Observatory
by Adjaye Associates


Spiralling stone walls will be carved with images of extinct species - with space reserved for future extinctions - at this observatory and education centre designed by Adjaye Associates for the Isle of Portland, England.

MEMO by Adjaye Associates

The Mass Extinction Memorial Observatory (MEMO) will function as an information and exhibition centre dedicated to the 860 species of animals, birds, insects and sea life that have been identified as extinct since the demise of the dodo in the seventeenth century.

MEMO by Adjaye Associates

Positioned on the edge of a cliff, the 30 metre-high structure will also house an observatory overlooking Bowers Quarry, one of the main producers of Portland Stone since the late eighteenth century.

MEMO by Adjaye Associates

Adjaye Associates based the spiralling form of the building on the gastropod fossils commonly found in the quarry. The structure will be built from Portland Stone, with a rough surface intended to echo the rugged cliffside.

MEMO by Adjaye Associates

The plan is to add more carved stones in the future, if and when more creatures become extinct. These occasions will also be marked by a toll from a bell at the centre of the building.

Floors inside the MEMO building will follow the corkscrew shape. Stone models of extinct species will be displayed around the circular route, leading up to the observatory on the uppermost floor.

MEMO by Adjaye Associates

Adjaye Associates, led by architect David Adjaye, also recently unveiled designs for a silk-weaving facility in India and a fashion hub in Hackney, London.

Dezeen caught up with David Adjaye at Design Indaba, where he described his relationship with Africa and why he believes the continent provides a great opportunity for architects. See more stories about David Adjaye.

Here's some more information from Adjaye Associates:

Portland, UK

The Mass Extinction Memorial Observatory (MEMO) will comprise a monument to the world's extinct species and an adjacent biodiversity education centre. Conceived as a continuous spiral of stone, it will be carved with images of the 860 species assessed as extinct since the dodo. It will be an on-going monument, with more stones added into the future if more species become extinct. The bell of biodiversity, placed in the centre of the monument, will be rung annually on the international day of biodiversity and to mark further species becoming extinct. Sited on the Isle of Portland on the south coast of Britain, each creature will be immortalised in stone along the circular ramp that leads to the top of the 100 foot-high Bowers Quarry observatory. Visitors will then walk down the outside of the ramp to ground level.

MEMO by Adjaye Associates
Cross section - click here for larger image

A fitting insertion into the landscape, the project presents an opportunity to revitalise the old Bowers Quarry and to draw attention back to the natural beauty and craftsmanship of Portland. Rather than a building or shelter, MEMO is devised as a journey, exploring the relationship between interior and exterior, landscape and enclosure. The circular form resonates with Portland's three lighthouses near Portland Bill as well as the remains of the windmills at Perryfields to the south east of Weston. The spiralling arrangement is inspired by a turreted gastropod fossil, found in particular abundance in Bower's Quarry, the 'Portland Screw' (Aptyxiella portlandica). The material palette is predominantly Portland Stone to reinforce a sense of the landscape, echoing the character of part of the cliff with its exposed stone strata. The sizes of the blocks and the rhythm of the joints are alternating with an accent on the horizontal joints, while the surface of the stones is rough - like the face of a Quarry Block. The development will promote the use of local and recycled material.

  • pedro

    What is this?! Are you kidding me?!

  • vincent

    It reminds a bit of a monastery or a pagoda, standing in such a impossibly remote place. I hope it blends in as well as on the first picture. On the fourth it is already too much of a carbuncle for my taste.

    Anyhow, showing the history of species on top of a scenic cliff of earth-layers deserves a price.

  • Colonel Pancake

    Are snakes extinct yet? They oughta be.

    • south

      Them and the damn mosquitoes.

    • Gary Walmsley

      Colonel Pancake, regarding your disgust of snakes, take that up with a shrink; I don’t see it contributing in regards to this project.

  • Allan

    Nice project.

  • Sergy

    I see it as a pretty site-sympathetic project. Looks like an ancient temple left to us by our ancestors.

  • Here's hoping the memorial doesn't grow too much in the decades to come.

  • Olie

    I love this, I like to think it would become a true monument and last a thousand years or more. If it doesn’t fall off the cliff.

  • It reminds me of this Lundgaard & Tranberg project in Oman

  • Concerned Citizen

    The structure is fine, but a memorial for extinct species? Aren’t they all memorialised somewhere else already?

  • Gary Walmsley

    I’m not understanding the negative comments (because the commenters can’t seem to be bothered to back up their complaints with REASONS).

    I agree with Sergy, and see it as a very site-sympathetic project. It blends right into the landscape like some deep ancient spiritual gathering place.

  • Alex25

    The Isle of Portland is home to a growing community of rock climbers and other sports enthusiasts. My fear with this project is that unwanted attention or commercial investment will damage the ‘natural beauty’ of the Island, as a result of Adjaye’s interests.

    The building might be trying to commemorate the beauty of the Island, and it might have noble intentions, but it will bring about the exact opposite. David Adjaye, please leave this place alone!

    It is natural and beautiful for a reason. Involving Starchitects will only bring about consumerism and development, with confused architecture (such as this) that misses the heritage of the site, its communities, seeming slightly too iconic and arguably place-less.

  • levelheaded

    David Adjaye, please leave this place alone! Do not blemish it like so many other places have been – engage accountability!

  • Alex K.

    I wouldn’t really call it placeless, but it seems like a Middle Eastern thing, doesn’t it? Not really sure what the Tower of Babel is doing in the UK. And, honestly, whatever you build out of rock is going to fit in – it’s a quarry.

    • Alex25

      I see your point, but just because something shouts the same material, doesn’t mean it fits in. I agree with your Middle Eastern comment, but you have to think about what this building will bring to the site… why not support the current activities happening, instead of throwing down something completely random?