Exhibition of Master's Thesis in Architecture
Candidate Lior Israel
Tutors Architect Anders Rubing and Visual Artist Eva Kun
This website is the virtual exhibition of my 2020 Master's Thesis in architecture, handed in at the Bergen School of Architecture.
Traditionally in previous years, similar exhibitions were built as physical installations and presented inside the academy's building in Bergen, Norway. This year, however, due to the constraints of Covid-19, the exhibition will be presented for the first time fully digitally.
How to Browse this Website
This website is chronologically arranged according to the six progression phases of the project. Each phase is presented in its own individual page. Phases one to three are characterized by predominantly textual emphasis, while phases four to six are characterized by predominantly visual emphasis. Browsing between the pages is done using the menu bar on the top-right corner of this website.
Each phase page presents a brief overview of selected materials, and is culminated with a booklet which embodies the complete endeavour. Kindly pay attention to the fact that in order to review and understand the entire workflow and outcome, one must examine all six booklets that appear on this website.
Despite the vast amount of textual volume in this work, much of it is highly important for the understanding of the workflow and results. Kindly take the time to examine, or at least skim-through, the full scope of text.
For maximal resolution, please view the booklets in full-screen mode and use the entire screen area by pressing the F11 key.
This website is only optimal for viewing on computer screens and is not compatible for viewing on smartphones and/or tablets.
I wish you an enjoyable journey through this online exhibition.
My project begins before I was born with the death of my mother’s father, a holocaust survivor. Its more recent phase was launched with my mother’s mother who passed away in September 2018, nearing 90 years of age. She as well was a holocaust survivor, yet with a completely different story than that of my grandfather. Although my grandmother was always rather reluctant to reminiscence and share her own and her husband’s testimonies from the holocaust, her death marked for my family not only the loss of a beloved grandmother, but also a loss of direct and tangible connection to the holocaust. My grandmother’s personal memory in its purest form is lost forever.
My thesis deals with the tension between personal and collective memories in relation to the holocaust, and how each affects its commemoration; in particular, how these memories are represented in architectural commemoration of the holocaust in Israel today.
My principal claim is that within the Israeli society, where holocaust commemoration has always been ever so present, its public manifestation has regularly been linked to, and affected by, the living-personal-memories and testimonies of the victims. Nowadays, however, we are nearing the inevitable moment in time in which the very last holocaust survivor passes away. Alongside this human loss, perhaps a greater loss will be sustained to the complete disappearance of personal memory from this monumental historic event. For the first time since the end of the second world war, our memory of the holocaust will be almost solely shaped by top-down narrated collective memory, without any possibility whatsoever to offer any organic, supplementary or counter genuine personal memories, that were compiled bottom-up.
One can therefore contemplate on the dramatic metamorphosis of memory within only a mere lifetime of a person; while in 1945, right at the end of the war, the holocaust was mostly portrayed by many, unarranged small stories of individuals - whereas some 80 years later, its memory is constructed so often by politicized agents of memory.
My firm belief is that within the way we remember the holocaust, and in particular the way it is remembered within the Israeli society, this heavy-weight swift in memory balance from the “possibly-personal” to the “inevitably-collective” should contextualize a new discourse in the field of holocaust commemoration and how it is presented in the public sphere.
With the final loss of the personal memory of the events, I suspect the instrumental collective memory of the holocaust will be hijacked in all directions as to reconfirm and justify current behaviour and actions. Some may even be completely detached and unrelated to the true memory of the holocaust. It is, in fact, vital to note that with the advanced age of most holocaust survivors and the natural occurrence where they become less involved in our contemporary lives and lifestyle, I believe the process described has already begun.
Where and Why
My memorial is built in Tel Aviv, Israel, in the north-western end of the Independence Park. It is located on the edge of a cliff overlooking the sea. The exact site was eventually chosen due to its ad hoc, under-planned, daily functional use as a route connecting the seafront promenade and the higher cliff.
In the planning of my memorial, I used this daily function as an anchor and a trigger for the design. The simple and daily function ends up working side by side, yet in sheer contrast, to the “sacred” essence of a holocaust memorial. Consequently, this action combines the "mundane" and the “holy” in a non-traditional manner for a commemorative memorial. This gesture therefore challenges the concepts of what and how remembrance of the holocaust in Israel may become.
It is important to stress out that the combination of "daily" and “sacred” into the commemorative building is a key design factor, rather than an afterthought and by-effect of asserting a commemorative trait onto an object or space of daily use; such as putting a commemorative plaque on a bench. The different order of actions and their rearranged hierarchy generate a dramatically different meaning.
Expanding the Canvas of Memory Representation
My intention, despite of it being completely experimental in its real-world likelihood, was to plan an Israeli holocaust commemorative site that would not reproduce or reinterpret the same approaches and gestures that previous memorials in the country have. I wish not to impose memory that reflects the genocide, but rather, bring forwards fractions of memories of the victims and their lives.
In its essence, public architectural commemoration is a specifically complex and expensive representation of memory. This "right" for commemoration is typically reserved to the stronger powers in the social structure - id est, formal authorities such as a municipality or the state. As such, the memory put on pedestal adheres to the consensus of a top-down narrative, affected by collective memory. This way of commemoration leaves little to no room for any public, yet personal, expression of memory.
A relevant question may be asked as for what are the importance and role of specific and personal memories in the public sphere. Since I am uncertain of my ethical answer and the deep moral value of this action, I will leave my answer in the strictly functional and technical fields.
Firstly, whether I like it or not, attributing greater importance to “the individual” and “the personal” is a key trait of the contemporary zeitgeist; at the same time, since it is a relatively young construct that is no more than a couple of decades old, we will only understand its full scope and affects in hindsight.
Secondly, our modern-day means of expression - for example, our immediate access to cameras and our ability to easily reproduce and print images - allow and call for a greater emphasis on “the individual” and “the personal”; whereas previously any public display of private memories and personal family history was merely impossible or vastly expensive, technology has made it both accessible and cheap to convey such personal commemoration to the public domain.
The design of the memorial consists of both tangible objects such as building materials, flora and physical spatial elements - in combination with intangible elements such as light, shade, colour, smell and ambience. The effort is made to produce a coherent phenomenological experience which is unlike other holocaust memorial sites in the country: A place and space where the cultural aspects are derived from the sensory perspective.
Conclusion and Summary
As stated, the core of my intention is to open up the discourse. I do not attempt to rectify past and present expressions and do not claim there is anything wrong with the existing memorials. However, I do want to offer another voice for expression or outlook on what memory of the holocaust can be made of. At the same time, my memorial suggestion is not by any means a final answer, but instead, a mere example for concretization of an idea. It attempts to offer a wider canvas of representation for different memories, originating from different sources, that would in turn enhance and fill-in the missing pieces that the top-down narrated collective ethos cannot provide.
Architectural representation of any memory is undoubtedly a challenging task, if not a rather difficult one. By offering my experimental and unconventional design for a holocaust memorial, I find that the biggest difficulty I faced time and time again was to escape from the norms, conventions and architectural gestures I am familiar with - many of which are without a doubt examples of good architectural practice. My biggest self-criticism for my design is that perhaps I did not go far enough. Perhaps I did not experiment with the truly unthinkable and the outrageous.
However, I do believe my architectural suggestion is successful in being unlike existing holocaust memorials in terms of the vast range of experiences it allows and the strong nondetachable connection between the “mundane” and the “sacred”. In addition to that, unlike existing holocaust memorials, the public participation in my architectural suggestion truly turns this holocaust memorial into what it can become.
Without the personal memories of the deceased holocaust victims and survivors, brought onstage by bottom-up, self-proclaimed agents of memory - id est, the family members and friends - what would make this specific array of walls and light a holocaust memorial? And at the end of the day, this holocaust memorial is all about commemorating people and their lives, rather than remembering the atrocities inflicted to them against their will.
This project would not have been the same without everyone who helped, assisted, advised and was involved with it, in any shape or form. My special thank yous go to my tutors, Anders Rubing and Eva Kun - for their true commitment along this journey; Cecilie Andersson, Tom Chamberlain, Andre Fonte, Pavlina Lucas, Arild Wåge and Anna Aniksdal for their advice and feedback; Siv Aardal for always being so helpful and informative.
My sincere thanks to my interviewees: Dr. Roni Stauber, Prof. Eran Nauman, Dr. Gadi Taub and Prof. Yair Garbuz - for their time and patience.