A Shoah memorial & museum in Mokum; graduation project
From 1941 until 1943 the Hollandsche Schouwburg was the center of the plan to annihilate the large jewish population of Amsterdam and its surroundings. Tens of thousands jews were deported from the once popular theatre on the lush Plantage Middenlaan near the center of Amsterdam. Now a memorial and small museum dwell within the remains. The Joods Historisch Museum has plans to renew both. This is a study proposal for the transformation, made in dialogue with the people involved.
“There is no point in exaggerating that which is already horrific”, the author W.G. Sebald says, “perhaps in order to get the full measure of the horrific, one needs to remind the reader of beatific moments of life.” The horror of the Shoah (Holocaust) may work like the head of Medusa: one is petrified by a direct confrontation.
Instead of shocking visitors with spectacular forms, the architectural aim is to create a dignified mood of contemplation. It is about life, the personal aspect of memory and the place itself.
The program of requirements is too extensive to fit on the site. Room may be provided by sharpening the program, using run-down spaces and demolishing several existing elements after a thorough analysis. The proposal is to also use a second location: the vacant Hervormde Kweekschool. Situated diagonally across the street, the school served as an escape route for jewish children during the German occupation. The tram stop in between, which was then used for deportations, is now proposed as a public exhibition and connecting element.
1892 – 1961. The Hollandsche Schouwburg was a popular theatre on the Plantage Middenlaan. During the German Occupation it became a centre of deportation. In the white marble foyers jews had to give up their house keys. Next they waited in the stripped auditorium of what would come.
1962 -. After the deportations, the theatre was used as a conference centre but was soon closed and stood vacant until 1961. At this time most of the auditorium was demolished. A memorial was built in the remains of the stage tower. Later a small museum was established on the first floor of the front building.
1888-1951. The school had a deep garden which adjoined the playground of the nursery. Jewish children were deported from this nursery. Many were saved by being carried over the hedge which separated the gardens. They were brought via the school to the Plantage Middenlaan and to relative safety elsewhere.
1952-. Both during and after the Second World War the Kweekschool kept serving as a school. The school grew, the extensions made are poorly constructed with little care for the existing structure. A gymnasium was built in the garden, sinking slowly in the peaty soil.
Mokum comes from the Hebrew word for place: makom. Amsterdam was the place for jews, a safe haven. This drastically changed during the Shoah. The city is now charged with contrasting memories. To create a monument which is about- and resonates with the place itself, the notion that Amsterdam is fundamentally an a-monumental city is significant. I propose intimate spaces that prevent memories from rigidifying in monumental forms that dwarf visitors. Comparable to the historical beacon of jewish life in Amsterdam, the Portugese Synagoge, the proposed architecture is sober while forming a clear presence in the city.
- I stand on the Plantage Middenlaan. The opaque glass facades of the Hollandsche Schouwburg and Hervormde Kweekschool shimmer. Behind the open doors the seemingly hovering timber floor continues.
Islands & Enclaves
Like the other traces of the once vibrant jewish life in the Plantage, the exhibition and memorial spaces are bound by an inside-outside rhythm. Nestled in between are sculpture- and flowergardens: a regenerative backdrop. One may wander through this environment of memory, there is no sequence of experiences fixed. Inside there are moments of focus. Outside moments of reflection. Surrounding life is always present, the story not isolated. A membrane, allowing sound and light through, marks the place by following the historical confine of both sites.
- Bleak light filters through the soft membrane that is slightly moved by the wind. The sound of my footsteps on the ash floor as I walk. A rumbling tram far away.
Jews have long been a wandering people. The means of conveying memory have been adapted to this wandering life. Ritual and the telling of stories lead to a constant re-animation of- and identification with the past. These means of conveying memory may be used to keep the memory of the Shoah vivid. Exhibition spaces hold gleaming massive timber rooms filled with southern light. Black pigmented cement is mixed with crunched basalt of the former monument and is used to craft 1,5 meter high polished pedestals placed in a staccato rhythm alongside a connecting route. The timber walls and concrete pedestals are the only new elements that are heavy. They bear personal artefacts, but also the load of the buildings.
- A child comes up to the small object on a pedestal and may understand, this belonged to someone.
A quiet space of reflection
A majority of people has an image of the Shoah that is cast by spectacular films. In the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum perfumes, such as that of leather shoes, are sprayed into spaces to remind of the clothes left behind in Auschwitz. I distance myself from this ‘Disneyfication’ and the spectacular. Instead the proposed architecture is about simple things and creating a dignified mood of contemplation. This is a museum to keep your coat on in winter. Spaces are only heated where and when necessary.
- The sunlight changes on the old bricks, the smell of bare earth.
Memory involves the whole body. The proposed architecture is simple of form but is enriched by texture, transition, smell, sound and sunlight filtered by the membrane and recycled glass. Materials are chosen to absorb new traces of life such as weathering, scratches and footsteps clearly but gracefully, adding new layers of memory. The larch is treated with a glossy oil, the thermally modified ash with a matte oil. Slowly oxidizing copper eaves protect the timber from rain. Underneath the newly planted elms and planes local grasses, sage and jacobsladder grow. A threshold marks the entrance of the cabinet.
- The smell of larch resin; even when I close my eyes the building still envelops me. Sounds turn to silence on the massive timber walls.
The cyclical passing of time holds a central position in jewish tradition. Gardens, slowly changing materials, the temperature of spaces, but most of all: the changing sunlight, are markers of the place, but also a measure of the cyclical passing of hours and seasons. On the position of the former stage I propose the ‘chapelle ardente’. Here one may join the movement of the sun following the cyclical wall of names. 1040 suspended stainless steel threads, 100 recycled glass beads on every thread, 1 name on every bead. Every person of the 104.000 jewish victims from the Netherlands has his or her individual artefact.
- I turn the bead in front of me to read a name. Endlessly shining through, the sun projects a soft green hue as its light refracts in the glass.
Publication: 'hollandsche schouwburg', Afasia 15.6.16
Publication:'Hollandsche Schouwburg', Archiprix 2015: beste Nederlandse afstudeerplannen, NAI010 publishers
Lecture:'Mokum, memory and place in jewish tradition', Koninklijke Nederlandse Oudheidkundige Bond
Lecture: 'Capita Selecta lecture: Hollandsche Schouwburg, proposal for a memorial and Shoah museum in Mokum', TU Delft
Publication: 'Hollandsche Schouwburg', Project Interieur #5, volume 25
Publication: 'Plaats van herinnering in Mokum', Project Interieur #6, volume 24
Finalist, National Archiprix 'Hollandsche Schouwburg'
Finalist, Koninklijke Nederlandse Oudheidkundige bond, Six penning Thesis 'Mokum and Memory'
Winner, Archiprix Technische Universiteit Delft 'Hollandsche Schouwburg'