Renowned Polish-American architect Daniel Libeskind was given the prestigious work of creating Canada’s first national monument dedicated to the millions of Holocaust victims murdered under the Nazi regime. A monument dedicated to the victims of one of humanity’s most gruesome acts is a monument that will reach to the future and remind mankind of what a human is capable of and what the world should not be.
Born to holocaust survivors, Libeskind strongly believes that “Only through acknowledgment of the erasure and void of Jewish life can the history of Berlin and Europe have a human future.” A project so close to home, he had the responsibility and a commitment to create a monument that will resonate an apology, an apology that the human race makes to itself.
Studio Libeskind took the systematic route and worked their way up from the planning to the superstructure. Every aspect of the design has a meaning, a message and a journey. “The monument is conceived as an experimental environment comprised of six triangular, concrete volumes configured to create the points of a star. The star remains the visual symbol of the Holocaust – a symbol that millions of Jews were forced to wear by the Nazis to identify them as Jews, exclude them from humanity and mark them for extermination.” identified the team at Studio Libeskind.
It is organised within two physical ground planes; the ascending plane with a message of leading to the future and the descending plane that consists of the interior spaces that each have their purpose, to vividly take us through the journey of the victims and stand ground as memories of this heinous act. Detailing out the interiors, the design team ensured purpose with a fluidity that would draw the visitors to delve deeper.
So “Six triangular concrete forms provide specific program areas within the monument: the interpretation space that features the Canadian history of the Holocaust; three individual contemplation spaces; a large central gathering and orientation space; and the towering Sky Void that features the eternal Flame of Remembrance, a 14 meter-high form that encloses the visitor in a cathedral-like space and frames the sky from above.”
One of the most crucial aspects of the interior detailing are Edward Burtynsky’s monochromatic paintings of present day holocaust sites that invoke the mind into transporting itself to the death camps and killing fields. The intricate details are painted onto the sloping walls of the monument and guide the visitors through the torturous journey of the holocaust. Studio Libeskind gave them purpose as, “These evocative murals aim to transport the visitor and create another dimensionality to the interiors spaces of canted walls and labyrinth-like corridors.”
Moving further into the monument is the “Stair of Hope” that is juxtaposed with the central open space but at the same time carves itself into a wall and gives direction towards to the future. A future highlighted by the Parliament buildings that house the numerous survivors of the holocaust who have actively contributed towards Canadian history. “ A gesture that recognises and acknowledges the Canadian survivors who have contributed much to Canada and who continued to play an important role in exposing the dangers of state sponsored genocide,”defined the design team as the meaning of this key element in the monument.
A monument that highlights at night as much as it does during the day, the structure glows from within creating a stark poetry to any passersby even at night. The monochromatic murals along with the “Stair of hope” light up from within and stay true to their purpose – a story to tell at all given times. Libeskind’s concept behind the emphasis of this was that “The lighting design threads together the architectural language with an intimate and comfortable environment. Strategic use of indirect sources allows light to emanate from architectural features without distracting from the viewer’s experience.” The use of stark unfinished concrete panels for the canting walls, the rough dry landscaping studded with coniferous trees all send out the same message of simplicity in fluidity because this building is a story about agony and pain, not a pretty picture for a postcard.
The National Holocaust Monument in Ottawa resonates with Libeskind’s philosophy, “to provide meaningful architecture is not to parody history but to articulate it.”
Text By Virupa Kantamneni
Photographs Courtsey Doublespace