Five years ago a fast-moving blaze in the London high-rise left 72 people dead and the building a shell. Some want to see it torn down, but others feel it should remain.
LONDON — The blackened walls of Grenfell Tower, wrapped in white plastic, still cast their shadow over the surrounding neighborhood in West London, five years after the fire that killed 72 people. What to do with the 220-foot structure — or what to build in its place — is one of the tragedy’s many unresolved issues.
For some of the victims’ families and survivors, the skeleton of the tower is a powerful reminder of the deadly inferno. For others, it is a constant source of trauma.
“I want it down,” said Anne Murphy, who can see the building where her son died from her bedroom window.
“People are going to forget about it,” said Nicholas Burton, who lived on the 19th floor of the tower and whose wife died after suffering injuries in the blaze. “I don’t want it to come down now,” he added.
The Grenfell disaster shocked Britain, exposing the nation’s fire security failures and highlighting stark inequalities in housing. But, half a decade later, many in the bereaved community say that they are still facing a delay in justice, a lack of accountability and insufficient change.
The government has not yet decided what to do with the building but has tasked the Grenfell Tower Memorial Commission, made up of representatives of survivors, the victims’ families and local residents, with gathering the community’s wishes about what the site should become, and whether the tower should remain.
There was a service this past week to commemorate the fifth anniversary of the fire, but Giannino Gottardi did not attend. Mr. Gottardi’s son Marco and Marco’s girlfriend, Gloria Trevisan, died in the blaze, and Mr. Gottardi, who lives near Venice, said in a phone call that it was still too painful for him to go to London. That the tower is still standing makes it even harder, he added.
“It’s always a punch when you see it,” he said. “It’s a crazy brutality.”
Mr. Gottardi said he would like to see the tower demolished and replaced with a large open space. His vision, which he has shared with others, would be an area surrounded by a ring of 72 trees, representing the victims of the fire, with a smaller ring of 72 white marble pillars — of different heights to represent each victim’s age — inside. The idea for the pillars, he said, came from a monument to the children who died in the Holocaust at Yad Vashem in Israel. At the center, he would like to see a fountain.
“Water is the element that defeats fire,” he said.
Stephanie Var, 34, who lives in North Kensington, the neighborhood that includes Grenfell, also said that the tower was hard to look at, but she noted that the building had acquired a sort of inviolability.
“It’s a graveyard,” she said. “We need to have some respect because people died there.”
Susan Al-Safadi, who lives near Grenfell Tower and is part of the memorial commission, said that what matters most is what the tower stands for.
“It shouldn’t come down until justice is served,” she said, because otherwise it would be a case of “out of sight, out of mind.” Until there is some accountability and a clear idea of what to do with the site, she said, “I think it should remain.”
For inspiration, the memorial commission has studied other sites of remembrance, such as the National September 11 Memorial and Museum in New York and the Diana Memorial Fountain in Hyde Park, London, and has sounded out ideas from those affected by the tragedy.
Some have proposed a structure that lights up at night, and fountains and waterfalls were common suggestions — but there was widespread consensus that no new residences should be built at the site. A group of victims’ families also asked the Italian architect Stefano Boeri, who designed the tree-covered buildings on Milan’s skyline, to imagine a similar treatment for the ruined tower.
At the memorial gathering, one of the guest speakers, Abdal Hakim Murad, a scholar and dean of a Muslim college, said that a “museum of inequality” should be built on the site, because the fire had exposed “how the powerless and underestimated can suffer.”
Amid reports in September that the government had decided to demolish the tower, officials told members of the community that no final call would be made without their involvement. “We know how important and sensitive a decision on the future of Grenfell Tower will be, and one has not yet been taken,” a representative of the government department in charge of housing reiterated in an email last week.
For now, victims’ families have created makeshift memorials on the barriers around the tower, decorating them with messages, mosaics and other artworks. At the memorial gathering, the family of Anthony Disson, who died in the fire, brought white roses and silver balloons, and lit candles in front of a section of the barriers that was filled with inscriptions for him. They sat in a semicircle in front of the offerings, wearing white T-shirts with Mr. Disson’s picture on them.
Mr. Burton, the former Grenfell resident, said he thought that the tower, where he lived for 33 years, would be demolished in the future. But he stressed that it was important for the timing to be decided by those hurt by the tragedy.
In the tower’s place, he said, he would like to see four tall columns to mark the corners of its footprint, with a heart on top in green, a color that has come to represent Grenfell Tower.
“I am going to miss the tower,” he said. “That was my home for most of my life.”