Designing a project of the memorial complex on the territory of the former Auschwitz death camp gave "Arch Group" a pause for thought as to what turns millions of people not only into victims but also into executioners. The architects call this memorial complex on the territory of the former death camp "an anti-evil injection".
Written by: Alla Pavlikova Translated by: Anton Mizonov
This year will see the 70th anniversary of liberation of Auschwitz. This date will be commemorated, among other things, by the architectural contest that was announced late last year - the contest offered the architects from around the world to propose a concept of a new memorial center. Now in Auschwitz works the museum complex created shortly after the war in 1947 in the surviving barracks of Auschwitz II - Birkenau - that is considered to be the epicenter of all the horrors that went on in the camp; it was there that three quarters of the total number of the camp's victims died (over a million out of a million and four hundred thousand).
According to the specifications, the new memorial center is to be situated next to the territory of the former camp Auschwitz I which is now in fact quite a modern center of Oswiecim, a quiet Polish town with a population of some forty thousand people where now nothing is bringing back to memory the events of those years. And, according to the specifications, the future center must include, besides the memorial museum, a lot of public territories and facilities: a large lecture hall, creative workshops, and educational classes.
Initially inspired by the idea of designing a museum as such, the leaders of Arch Group Aleksey Goryainov and Mikhail Krymon later on came to a conclusion that the contest specifications in fact divert the participants from the memory of the great tragedy - and signed out from the contest. Without taking part in it, though, the architects still developed their own project of the Auschwitz museum, of a solely memorial nature, developing in this work their own vision of such exposition. Thus, this project that is meant neither for implementation nor even for participation in the contest can be arguably referred to the "paper" category - effectively, it is a conceptual study of the important theme.
In their project, Aleksey Goryainov and Mikhail Krymov placed the museum near the walls of Auschwitz II death camp that is now part of the existing complex. The architects stretched the galleries of their museum in a thin thread running along the road that leads to the camp, hiding the main museum space underground so as not to distract the visitors' attention from the camp itself with its long fences and menacing barracks. It is only the top gallery that is visible above the ground. It is completely made of glass but has the shape of a barrack and thus fits in with the surrounding scenery.
"Anti-evil" injection - this is the name that the architects gave to their project, offering, as they put it, to reconsider the very essence of all the traditional holocaust museums. As a rule, these museums include the appropriate human records and photographs of the victims; terrified, each visitor involuntarily puts himself into the victim's place in his mind. Psychologically, visiting such museums leaves the visitors depressed and terrified. Not everybody can withstand watching even a small part of these expositions. Mikhail Krymov explains: "The victim does not choose its destiny. Its different with executioners. People turn into them of their own free will, consciously, sometimes without even noticing that they've passed the point of no return. In such places, it is not considered appropriate to speak of executioners but, let's face it, in some certain circumstances, any visitor of this museum can find himself not only in the place of the victim but also in the place of an executioner. The documentary portrayal of the events of those days and of the process that turns ordinary harmless people into the perpetrators of these crimes can hopefully prevent new atrocities".
The psychological research that was done after the war, as well as recently, successfully proves one of the long-known truths: there is evil in every one of us. For example, in Asch's psychology experiments, 75% of the participants gave an incorrect answer to at least one question if that incorrect answer was backed by the majority of the group. In Milgram experiments, 87,5% of the group "killed" the victim by electricity guided solely by the authority of the scientists. In Stanford "prison" experiment, the students that got the roles of the prison security guards, in two days started showing sadistic traits and inclinations. These experiments were repeated in different countries and proved indisputably the universality of their results. "I am sure that if the participants of the experiment had been told what the experiment was all about in advance, and then asked to repeat the whole thing over again, the share of those who were ready to fulfill the order would have been significantly smaller - says Aleksey Goryainov - And it is the mitigation of these appalling numbers, the antidote against the evil, against accepting it and submitting to it, that must become, in our opinion, the main mission of this museum/memorial complex".
The realization of the fact that the visitors are in for facing a terrible reality comes already at the entrance situated next to the main gate of the camp. The museum entrance group is a gray concrete tunnel going underground. Collapsing into a tiny dot at the end, the long narrow gallery has no natural light in it. The overall length of this oppressive corridor is about 400 meters but the visitor is not offered any other path to go, so everybody who is coming must follow this route. The architects treat it as a kind of purgatory passing through which no one will ever be the same again. Meanwhile, as a matter of fact, apart from the oppressing atmosphere, the corridor does not have in it any terrible documents about the victims of Auschwitz or any details that can frighten or scare the visitors away, cause repugnance or kill the desire to think about the events of those days.
The underground corridor is the "executioner's progress" that depicts the life of ordinary people. The surviving documents and photographs allow for creating such an exposition from beginning to end: here is a person that lives in a nice little house, he listens to music, plants flowers, gets his education, raises his kids and achieves his share of success. At some moment, there appear the documents of him signing in for the Nazi party, and about his job promotion. Bit by bit, this person becomes a part of a huge machine that crushes everything in its way. Then there is a war, Auschwitz, and an endless nightmare of dead bodies. Thus, in front of the visitor's eyes, unfold the lives of the executioners including those moments where they could have stopped but for some reason or other did not do so.
The exposition is now and then interrupted by installations displaying the results of the psychological experiments described above - reminding the people about the danger of becoming a part of the evil cause. The visitor gets involved in this process taking a number of simple tests developed by professional psychologists - these tests vividly demonstrate how easy it is to manipulate people and set them on the path of violence.
Having gone the whole way, the visitor finds himself in a large mirror hall in the center of which a large six-meter glass cube is installed, filled up to the brim with... mobile telephones! According to the authors, there must be a million and a half of them - which corresponds to the approximate number of people killed in the camp (the exact figure is still unknown). The authors deliberately use this contemporary object as opposed to the real things displayed in the Auschwitz museum - the glasses, toothbrushes, and shaving brushes that the fascist guards wrenched from the prisoners. A mobile phone, something that nowadays everybody has and uses, becomes the link to the present day - it seems to be saying that even today the humanity is not guaranteed against a repetition of this tragedy. The multitude of glittering screens is meant to help the visitors to get the idea of the magnitude of what happened here, multiplying manifold in the countless mirror reflections. The cube is a monument to all the victims of Auschwitz, and its reflections are the memory of all the instances of genocide.
The mirror hall is circled by a ramp that leads back up to the ground surface where, under a glass dome, the architects organize the "Memory Gallery" in commemoration of the victims of the camp. The main "exhibit" of the gallery is the camp itself whose terrifying panorama spreads before the visitors eyes full-scale: the machine-gun towers, the barbed-wire fences, the first line of the barracks where hundreds of thousands of people were held captive, the spots of the foundations, and the forest of incinerator chimneys looming against the sky. It is here that one gets the sense of the reality of the tragedy about which the underground exposition shares, the physical contact with it. The glass wall of the gallery that is opposite to the camp bears the surviving registers and photos of the prisoners. Most of those who got killed were not even registered anywhere - they were thrown in the gas chambers right after they were brought to Auschwitz. The authors of the project decided to honor their memory in the endless rows of small, three cm tall, human silhouettes. This is yet another attempt to help the people of today to get the idea of the atrocities that were done here. Leaving "Memory Gallery", the visitor again finds himself before the main gate of Auschwitz II, from where the guided tour over the territory of the real camp might start.
A special part of the exposition is the room named "Black Hall", also underground, behind the mirror hall. It shows the traditional exposition of Holocaust museums that depicts all the horrors of the death camp. This room is deliberately organized in the form of a separate block as an indispensable but still not mandatory part of the exposition. The visitor will decide for himself or herself whether he or she wants to visit that room and take their children along who quite possibly will be shocked by what they are about to see. Here it is very important to make sure that the visitors do not get a sense of repulsion in respect to the pictures of the starving skeleton-like prisoners - that usually keeps the museum visitors from treating them as real people. Repulsion and aversion are natural protective human reactions; they block the empathy center and a number of other sympathetic feelings. All the fascist regimes used this cruel device to foster hatred for this or that "enemy" people by stopping calling a human a human and thus creating a moral justification base for their crimes and atrocities.
"We do not want the visitor to stop for a minute seeing real people either in the executioners or in their victims. Both of them were people - conclude the authors - We would want the museum to evoke the right emotion so that, after visiting it, the person would get the right experience, however hard or unpleasant, but still making him a better person".
The experience of designing such a museum, even without going beyond the pale of the conceptual meditation into the sphere of real-life design is, of course, very important, as is the experience of studying the limits to which the human psychology can be bent, twisted, or manipulated, and its helplessness in the face of the almighty propaganda that easily finds and awakes a beast virtually in any human being, a beast that is ready to go and search for the enemies judging by the signs and traits that someone else thrust on him. This theme is acutely painful to the point of intolerable - but all the more relevant. At which exact point do we become accomplices to murder? When do we do the first concession against our conscience for the sake of career, success, and well-being? How solvable at all are the problems of mass psychology and, more importantly, is the "antidote for the evil" described by the authors possible? Can the recurrent disease of blind hate be cured once and for all? Probably no one can answer these questions. But the attempts to cure this disease are still worth trying.
The Gallery Approach
In this article, we are covering the concept of a Central District Clinic for 240 patients, designed by Ginzburg Architects, which won at a competition organized by the Architects Union and the Healthcare Ministry.
In this issue, we are publishing the concept of a standard clinic designed by UNK Project, which took second place in the competition organized by the Union of Architects of Russia in collaboration with the Healthcare Ministry.
From Foundation to Teaspoon
Based on the taste of their friendly clients, the architects Olga Budennaya and Roman Leonidov designed and built a house in the Moscow metropolitan area playing Art Nouveau. At the same time, they enriched the typology of a private house with modern functions of a garage loft and a children’s art studio.
A Comfortable City in Itself
The project that we are about to cover is seemingly impossible amidst human anthills, chaotically interspersed with old semi-neglected dachas. Meanwhile, the housing complex built on the Comcity business part does offer a comfortable environment of decent city: not excessively high-rise and moderately private as a version of the perfect modern urbanist solution.
Moving on the Edge
The housing complex “Litsa” (“Faces”) on Moscow’s Khodynka Field is one of the new grand-scale buildings that complement the construction around it. This particular building skillfully tackles the scale, subjugating it to the silhouette and the pattern; it also makes the most of the combination of a challenging land site and formidable square footage requirements, packing a whole number of features within one volume, so the house becomes an analogue of a city. And, to cap it all, it looks like a family that securely protects the children playing in the yard from... well, from everything, really.
Visual Stability Agent
A comparatively small house standing on the border of the Bolshevik Factory combines two diametrically opposite features: expensive materials and decorative character of Art Deco, and a wide-spaced, even somewhat brutal, facade grid that highlights a laminated attic.
The Faraday Cage
The project of the boutique apartment complex in the 1st Truzhenikov Lane is the architects’ attempt to squeeze a considerable volume into a tiny spot of land, at the same time making it look graceful and respectable. What came to their rescue was metal, stone, and curvilinear glass.
The Union of Art and Technology
His interest for architecture of the 1930’s is pretty much the guiding star for Stepan Liphart. In his project of the “Amo” house on St. Petersburg’s Vasilyevsky Island, the architect based himself on Moscow Art Deco - aesthetically intricate and decorated in scratch-work technique. As a bonus, he developed the city block typology as an organic structure.
The project that Evgeniy Gerasimov and Partners developed for Moscow’s Leningrad Avenue: the tallest building in the company’s portfolio, continuing the tradition of Moscow’s Stalin architecture.
In the project that they developed for a southern region of Russia, OSA Architects use multilayered facades that create an image of seaside resort architecture, and, in the vein of the latest trends of today, mix up different social groups that the residents belong to.
Just a Mirror for the Sun
The house that Sergey Skuratov designed in Nikolovorobinsky Alley is thought out down to the last detail. It adapts three historical facades, interprets a feeling of a complex city, is composed of many layers, and catches plenty of sunlight, from sunrises to sunsets. The architect himself believes that the main role of this house is creating a background for another nearby project of his, Art House in the Tessinsky Alley.
Part of the Whole
On June 5, the winners of Moscow Architectural Award were announced. The winners list includes the project of a school in Troitsk for 2,100 students, with its own astronomy dome, IT testing ground, museum, and a greenhouse on the roof.
Yet another project of a private school, in which Archimatika realizes the concept of aesthetic education and introduces a new tradition: combining Scandinavian and Soviet experience, turning to works of art, and implementing sustainable technologies.
In the “Parallel House” residence that he designed in the Moscow metropolitan area, the architect Roman Leonidov created a dramatic sculptural composition from totally basic shapes – parallelepipeds, whose collision turned into an exciting show.
In the Istra district of Moscow metropolitan area, the tandem of 4izmerenie and ARS-ST designed a sports complex – a monovolume that has the shape of a chamfered parallelepiped with a pointed “nose” like a ship’s bow.
Stairway to Heaven
The project of a hotel in the settlement of Yantarny is an example of a new recreational complex typology, and a new format that unites the hotel, the business, and the cultural functions. All of this is complemented by 100% integration with nature.
Cape of Good Hope
In this issue, we are showing all the seven projects that participated in a closed-door competition to create a concept for the headquarters of Gazprom Neft, as well as provide expert opinions on those projects.
The Outer Space
Honoring the 300th anniversary of the Kuznetsk coal fields in 2021, a new passenger terminal of the Aleksey Leonov Airport in the city of Kemerovo will be built, designed by GK Spectrum and ASADOV Architectural Bureau.
The Pivot of Narkomfin Building
Ginzburg Architects finished the restoration of the Narkomfin Building’s laundry unit – one of the most important elements of the famous monument of Soviet avant-garde architecture.
The housing complex “Respublika” is so large that it can be arguably called a micro-town, yet, at the same time, it easily overcomes most of the problems that usually arise with mass housing construction. How could Archimatika achieve that? We are examining that on the example of the first stage of the complex.
The Flowing Lines
The five houses of the “Svoboda” block belonging to the “Simvol” residential complex present a vivid example of all-rounded work performed by the architects on an integral fragment of the city, which became the embodiment of the approach to architecture that hitherto was not to be seen anywhere in Moscow: everything is subjected to the flow of lines – something like a stream, enhanced by the powerful pattern of the facades akin to “super-graphics”.
A City by the Water
The concept of a large-scale housing development at the edge of Voronezh, near the city reservoir, or “the sea”, as it is locally called, uses the waterside height difference to create a sophisticated public space, paying a lot of attention to the distribution of masses that determine the look of the future complex if viewed from the opposite bank of the river.
A Journey to the Country of Art Deco
The “Little France” residential complex on the 20th line of the Vasilyevsky Island presents an interesting make-believe dialogue between its architect, Stepan Liphart, the architect of the New Hermitage, masters of the Silver Age, and Soviet Art Deco, about interesting professional topics, such as a house with a courtyard in the historical center of Saint Petersburg, and the balance between the wall and the stained glass in the architectonics of the facade. Here are the results of this make-believe conversation.
A House in a Port
This housing complex on the Dvinskaya Street is the first case of modern architecture on the Gutuevsky Island. The architectural bureau “A-Len” thoroughly explores the context and creates a landmark for further transformations of this area of Saint Petersburg.
Balance of Infill Development
Anatoly Stolyarchuk Architectural Studio is designing a house that inadvertently prevails over the surrounding buildings, yet still tries to peacefully coexist with the surrounding environment, taking it to a next level.
The Precious Space
Evolution Design and T+T Architects reported about the completion of the interior design project of Sberbank headquarters on the Kutuzovsky Avenue. In the center of the atrium, hovers the “Diamant” meeting room; everything looks like a chest full of treasures, including the ones of a hi-tech kind.
Big Little Victory
In a small-sized school located in Domodedovo in Moscow metropolitan area, ASADOV_ architects did a skillful job of tackling the constraints presented by the modest budget and strict spatial limitations – they designed sunlit classrooms, comfortable lounges, and even a multi-height atrium with an amphitheater, which became the center of school life.
The Social Biology of Landscape
The list of new typologies of public spaces and public projects has been expanded yet again — thanks to Wowhaus. This time around, this company came up with a groundbreaking by Russian standards approach to creating a place where people and animals can communicate.
Watched by the Angels from up Above
Held in the General Staff building of the Hermitage Museum, the anniversary exhibition of “Studio 44” is ambitious and diverse. The exhibition was designed to give a comprehensive showcase of the company’s architecture in a whole number of ways: through video, models, drawings, installations, and finally, through a real-life project, the Enfilade, which the exhibition opens up, intensifies, and makes work the way it was originally intended.
A New Version of the Old City
The house at Malaya Ordynka, 19, fits in perfectly with the lineup of the street, looking even as if it straightened the street up a little, setting a new tone for it – a tone of texture, glitter, “sunny” warmth, and, at the same time, reserved balance of everything that makes the architecture of an expensive modern house.
Stepan Liphart: “Standing your ground is the right thing to do”
A descendant of German industrialists, “Jophan’s son”, and an architect, speaks about how studying architectural orders tempers one’s character, and how a team of just a few people can design grand-scale housing projects to be built in the center of Saint Petersburg. Also: Santa Claus appearing in a Stalin high-rise, an arch portal to the outer space, mannerism painting, and the palaces of Paris – all covered in an interview with Stepan Liphart.
Honey and Copper
In the Moscow area, the architect Roman Leonidov designed the “Cool House” residence, very much in the spirit of Frank Lloyd Wright, spreading it parallel to the ground, and accentuating the horizontal lines in it. The color composition is based on juxtaposition of warm wood of a honey hue and cold copper blue.
The Ring on the Saisara Lake
The building of the Philharmonic Hall and the Theater of Yakut Epos, standing on the shore of the sacred lake, is inscribed into an epic circle and contains three volumes, reminiscent of the traditional national housing. The roof is akin to the Alaas – a Yakut village standing around a lake. In spite of its rich conceptual agenda, the project remains volumetrically abstract, and keeps up a light form, making the most of its transparency, multiple layers, and reflections.
Architecture of Evanescence
On the Vernadskogo Avenue, next to the metro station, appeared a high-rise landmark that transformed the entire area: designed by UNK Project, the “Academic” business center uncovered, in the form of its architecture, the meanings of the local place names.
The Theater and Music Circles
The contest-winning ambitious grand-scale project of the main theater and concert complex of the Moscow area includes three auditoriums, a yard – a public area – a higher school of music, and a few hotels. It promises to become a high-profile center for the classical music festivals on a national scale.
The Line of a Hardened Breakthrough
Designed by Stepan Liphart, the housing complex “Renaissance” continues the line of the historical center of Saint Petersburg, reinterpreting the Leningrad Art Deco and the neoclassical architecture of the 1930-50’s in reference to the civilization challenges posed by our century.
The Regeneration Experience
The housing project “Metsenat”, which occupies the area next to the Resurrection Church in Moscow’s Kadashi, has a long and complicated history, full of protests, victories, and hopes. Now the project is complete: the architects were able to keep the views, the scale, and a few historical buildings; we can examine the end result now. The project was developed by Ilia Utkin.
The Terraces of the Crystal Cape
Proposed by Nikita Yavein, the concept of a museum, educational, and memorial complex to be built in the city of Sevastopol avoids straightforward accents and over-the-top dramatics, interpreting the history of this place along with the specifics of its landscape, and joining the public space of the operated stairway and amphitheaters with an imposing monument.
Evgeny Podgornov: “You need to make your projects visible”
The leader of Saint-Petersburg’s architectural company Intercolumnium explains why his company’s portfolio includes projects ranging from hi-tech to historicism, discourses upon high-rise landmarks, about the clients, and about the sources of the drive that the city needs.