Justice will Rupture the Mountain- The New Yad Vashem Museum
The largest and most
comprehensive museum for documentation of the Holocaust was inaugurated at Yad Vashem Institute in
Thanks to its location in
Based on close dialogue, the team effort resulted in a self-explanatory structure. The architect created a building at one with its environment while the halls attached to the geometric structure give it a random dimension. The designer Dorit Harel created a thrilling display which expresses the curators desire to, once and for all, personalize the abstract concept of 'Holocaust'.
Being a dedicated formalist, Safdie has has gradually evolved,
over a span of forty years, from architecture exhibiting a stark geometry of a
spatial nature (Habitat) to a geometry resounding with symbolic meaning (AI
#57). However, two factors appear to remain firm in all his structures: an unyielding
endeavor to connect to the surroundings, and the subscription to a central
theme, sometimes to an extreme degree. In this respect, the new museum is a
classic example. A 180-meter-long concrete prism penetrates the
The complex is planned as a
gradual move from the pastoral views of the
An in-depth examination of the simple geometric prism reveals a more complicated lay-out that is mostly hidden underground. After a short video introduction, the visitor is swiftly carried into the main exhibit by a sloped walkway which introduces the experience of walking through the horrors of history, in a route that has no place for personal choice.
As in other buildings designed by
Safdie, this structure contains a cathartic space
that is well immersed in the narrative: the Shrine of Names is a space that
leaves no visitor untouched. The huge space contains photos of victims that
hover over an excavated water pit - the lowest underworld from which there is
no escaping. From this point the stunned visitor has no choice but to ascend
the (rather acute) ramp leading to an open balcony from which he can view the
comforting sight of the
While live testimonies of the Holocaust are becoming extinct and the voices denying the horrors are growing stronger, the essential challenge of the design is to concentrate on delivering a credible and unquestionable message. If other museums typically lack content, Yad Vashem faces the opposite situation: the abundance of testimonies accumulated over the past sixty years has created a problem of sifting and choosing those which represent best the horrors of the Holocaust. In this context the desire of the museums curators to individualize the experience was just.
Simple and comprehensible, the design is based on fine use of modern display techniques which combine authentic items - personal belongings, photos, and real time victims writings. The narrative that intertwines with the structure creates a correct synchronization of the buildings circulation and the chronicle of events, thus avoiding premature fatigue while improving the visitors gradual understanding of what really happened.
Ten focal points emphasize the
horrible chasm that occurred in the stature of European Jewry, which instantly
collapsed from prominence into the lowest degrading reality. The route starts
with a video presentation by artist Michal Rovner, describing the Jewish life in pre-war
The most essential junction between the building and its content occurs in the Shrine of Names. This heart-rending hall includes a library of eternal testimony, and an adjacent study room that allows the visitor a deeper understanding of each of the 600 images appearing on the Shrines ceiling.
The exit 'frees' the visitor from his enforced participation in the experience. A sunken courtyard enables a respite before entering other sites - the new synagogue containing holy books that survived the war; a museum and study institute of Holocaust art; the Spielberg Centre for changing exhibits; the Centre for Holocaust Studies; the Children Memorial Museum (Yad LaYeled); the train-car monument; and the Remembrance Tent that takes precedence over all the other structures by means of higher topography.
Food for Thought
The main shortcoming of the structure lies, ironically, in its fracture theme. While gently hinted at in the architecture, the interior design takes it to an extreme. Exhibiting 'valleys' which fracture the museum floor prevents one from shortening the route, thereby creating a somewhat overdosed journey. Thus, the multi-sensorial experience induces a physical wearing down.
The curators desire to actualize
some of the Holocaust experience is, undoubtedly, well intended. However, one
should remember that a