By Tara D. Loughman
Many comparisons and contrasts could be portrayed between The Jewish Museum in Berlin, The United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, USHMM, and The BRIDGES Center in Memphis. In the below comparisons and contrasts, we have highlighted the six most significant areas that would best relate to the Barack Obama Presidential Library. The first being the rich design concepts that each building represents along with the symbolism behind the materials. The second comparison is the regional location of each design along with its historical context, then finally finishing with the interior spaces and the meaning behind the design. From these comparisons, we have observed that each building personifies its own message and relates to each viewer in their own interpretation.
The concepts and materials selected for these structures were more than just something important, they were a symbol for interpretation. When looking at the three buildings, you automatically see a great use of lines in the design’s concept. The Jewish Museum Berlin and the USHMM both take their ideas and use them to represent something other than just a simple line. In both museums, the architects make a decision to take a main section of their building and apply The Star of David, a major religious symbol in the Jewish community. In The Jewish Museum Berlin, Daniel Libeskind takes a warped version of The Star of David and forms the body of the building. This also creates “Voids” that represent intersections connecting the old building with the new building. These empty spaces are filled with walls of bare concrete, which are not heated or air-conditioned and have small amounts of light filtering in. What the architect was trying to accomplish is “that which can never be exhibited when it comes to the Jewish Berlin history: humanity reduced to ashes.” (Daniel Libeskind, 2000) In The Hall of Remembrance, Architect James Freed, also takes inconsideration The Star of David with the room’s design and shape of the six walls. He also labeled the six walls for the six million people who perished and survived the devastating events of the Holocaust.
The BRIDGES Center takes a different approach to its concept. The architects, BuildingStudio, designed their structure around sustainability, size ratio, and security. The center asks that the building be a teaching tool. To achieve this, the building’s environmental features were highlighted. The concept was to also work with its surrounding community by using a primarily single-story scheme to respect the neighborhoods scale.
In the three different buildings, materials were chosen for many different reasons. Whether it was for symbolism, history, or sustainability, the materials generated have purpose. In comparison, glass was a common use of material. In the BRIDGES Center, the glass was used to endure energy and maintain spatial development. This was achieved by locating two groups in separate buildings. The structures have an open plaza between them running the full length of the property. These operable windows throughout allow natural light to illuminate the spaces as much as possible, giving the structure its energy efficient responsibility it was striving for.
The comparison, in materials, for the two museums, is much more complex than that of the BRIDGES Center. Each architect brings meaning into its design with the glass material. In The Jewish Museum, a new Glass Courtyard was built from the design entitled “Sukkah” (Hebrew for Tabernacle). The Glass Courtyard gives a shiny silver façade, and with the Old Building together, it gives a successful synthesis of the old and new. The light-flooded Glass Courtyard has its very own distinctive feel. The glass roof is supported by four freestanding steel pillars. The structure of a tree was the inspiration for the pillars, which extend into the roof forming a steel network. The glass facade, of which a wide section can be opened at ground level, looks onto the spacious Museum Garden. The glass also fulfills the following requirements: It does not outplay the Old Building – the landmarked Collegienhaus erected in 1735 – in scale or appearance on the one hand and stands proud as an independent unit in the building ensemble on the other.
Just like The Jewish Museum Berlin, the USHMM used its environment and material to stimulate memory and set an emotional stage for each museum’s exhibitions. In the USHMM, The Hall of Witness is a large, three-story, sky-lit place. Overhead, a skewed and twisted skylight lets sheets of unfiltered but fragmented light from passing through a tensioned ribbing of heavy steel trusses. The glass roof shears the building on a diagonal line. The skylight drops beneath the flanking brick walls to the third-floor level, pressing down upon the open space below even as it opens the visitor’s view to the sky above. It is warped, deformed, and eccentrically pitched. The effect, Freed says, “tells the visitor something is amiss here.” A glass-block incision cuts the granite in a rift that echoes the axis of the skylight above. The fissure underscores a sense of imbalance, distortion, and rupture – characteristics of the civilization in which the Holocaust took place. The play of light and shadow, along with the contrasting wide and narrow spaces, arouse contradictory notions of accessibility and confinement. This dictates and defines unpredictability and uncertainty. Altogether, the glass suggests departure from the norm, informing visitors that they are in a profoundly different place.
When we refer to the regional location of these buildings, we are taking a close look at the approach that each designer took when laying out the design. Looking at the Jewish Museum in Berlin, we noticed that Daniel Libeskind put forth a lot of effort in conceptually placing the building, but little effort in allowing the building to blend with the existing scenery. Once we compared this to the USHMM we noticed that the designer, James Freed, put a little more effort in designing the building to fit with the current surroundings, while still keeping the rich conceptual idea behind it. One might make the argument that Libeskind, when designing the Jewish Museum, had more of an issue since this was an addition to a building that was built in 1735, while James Freed was designing with an empty slate. Although that is true, James Freed still had to deal with the USHMM fitting in with the National Mall in Washington D.C., which has many designs dating back to the 1790’s. Even though one architect had to design an addition and the other a stand-alone, the historical context needed to play a vital role. Only James Freed managed to accomplish that in his design. When we compare these two Museums to the BRIDGES Center in Memphis we notice that architectural firm BuildingStudio approached their design a little differently. BuildingStudio is located in an area that represents both cityscape and neighborhoods. The way they approached their design accommodates them both. On the neighborhood side of the building, the architects kept the profile in line with the local shut-gun homes, while paying homage to the city of Memphis with an inclining portion that reaches out to the downtown area. What we drew from these examples of regional and historic context was that there are different approaches to designing architecture around a region and its history, then finding the right approach for the project at hand is crucial in the overall design.
While comparing all three buildings with the meaning of materials and interior spaces, we found that three examples of architecture portray meaning in some essence. Starting with the Jewish Museum in Berlin, we found the Libeskind designed every interior space with a meaning, from the invisible matrix of the windows to the direction that the visitors follow once inside. Each material was picked because it represents something special to the history of Jewish population and their strife for identity. When we look at USHMM, we notice a very similar response from Architect James Freed. However, there was a minute difference between the two. Freed approached meaning on a more literal level with creating interior spaces that forced visitors to feel and experience the emotions of the Jewish population. The Hall of Faces is a great example of this; Filled with photos, it represents the 3,000 Jewish residents of a single Lithuanian town who were murdered in September 1941. Even though both architects approached interior spaces differently, it is worth noting that they both create space that represents a cause and have an incalculable meaning. The BRIDGES Center is also designed in the same manner. The interior of the building is designed in such a way that every aspect of the building is visible to the visitor. This allows the visitor to experience the building in its entirety. It allows the visitor to take in the meaning behind building sustainability and the tool to helping others. Although each architect and each building represent meaning in a different manner, they all represent something larger than just space.
Finally, these buildings are great examples of regional architecture and works of art. Each building represents its own meaning and definition in its own manner. Design concepts play a vital role in the makeup of each structure. Materiality is crucial to developing a personal and physical sense of atmosphere in each design. Regional and historic context enables a structure to blend not only with its locality, but also with its climate. From these comparisons, we have observed that each building personifies its own message and relates to each viewer in their own interpretation.