HOW DO WE MAKE PUBLIC SPACE FOR REMEMBERANCE? | AMSTERDAM
10 April 2019
In most cases when an official public memorial or monument is in the process to be created there are two essential questions: Why should it be made? and how should it be made? The two questions are obviously related, but they are also two different issues and must be critically treated as such. While the first originates from the political climate and social agency, the second primarily concerns the process of organizing and creating. It is not uncommon that this process becomes a platform for debates and conflicts as a specific memory starts to take shape in our material space. Probably the best-known example of the “how” debate is the polemic around the Memorial for the Murdered Jews of Europe in Berlin (2005) by Pieter Eisenman. This project caused friction from its very inception and the “how” part was a long and contested process that started with one unsuccessful design competition, only to be continued with another that proved equally contentious but successful in a sense that it delivered a memorial to designate Berlin’s prominent public space. The memorial, a result of a considerable compromise, continues to spark debates. Many will argue that this is only good – the memorial reflects societal currencies and keeps reminding us of the past that refuses to be ignored.
The well known designer of the Namenmonument in Amsterdam, Daniel Libeskind, also participated in this competition, but his design was not selected for several reasons. One of them was the committee’s fear that, next to Libeskind’s famous extension for the Jewish Museum (2001) in Berlin, having his recognizable architectural language occupy that public space would be too much of a one-man’s architectural imprint on a matter of collective remembrance.
If “why” and “how” phases in projects of remembrance are not clearly defined and treated with equal attention, that is when an additional problem is created. In the discussion around the Namenmonument, ‘’why’’ arguments are unfortunately used to answer ‘’how’’ questions. Those memory activists who manage to bring to public attention that certain pasts must be engraved into space as reminders, contribute to the society in ways we will only be able to understand in the future. But once their fight (often very difficult and long) is recognized by a designation of an open public space to built a memorial, their personal cause instantly becomes a public thing. Any architectural intervention inserted in a public space for which we do not need to buy a ticket to enter, would provoke citizens to react and condemn the lack of transparency and inclusion. But because we talk about a memorial, everything becomes more sensitive. Citizens ask: why today, in a democratic society, are we given one single design option as a solution to such significant national memory to be eternalized in a shared public space? Who owns the public space in a democratic society, or rather, who owns the right to tell us how we need to remember?
Regardless the location, if there are citizens who will need to live next to a memorial which will inevitably change the character of their common space, they should be included in the decision-making process. As practice shows, it is not sufficient to simply invite the public to see, but relevant groups have to be represented in official procedures once the “how” part of the process begins. In my PhD thesis I argue for an inclusive approach: next to the central role of the relatives and survivors of atrocities, to include all other related parties and specialists to create effective and durable spaces for remembrance. The memorial or monument is not only the light at the end of the tunnel, but the whole journey towards it. Those who fight to commemorate tragedies they know all too well, understand this, but others need to be invited and heard as well.
The wonderful initiative for the Namenmonument to adopt a name and in that way make it financially possible, demonstrated how important and present the memory of those who perished in the Nazi machinery really is and why remembering is relevant. How a space to bear that past is designed, matters. Designing is, indeed, much more than an effective form. As architect Emilio Ambasz suggested in his Pro-Memoria garden project (1978), in which he proposed having individual plots assigned to citizens of Lüdenhausen as a way of assuming responsibility for remembering the horrors of the war, memorials should aim to create contemporary rituals in a context imbued with political agency.
Inscribing names on memorials is a more than a century long practice: they are the essence of most memorial spaces. However, by now we know that once erected in public space these memorial spaces (and especially national memorials) stand for much more. As many examples show, the processes of creating them are carefully thought through. And this still does not guarantee a smooth and fast process. The event entitled Sign of the Times: Mad as Hell hosted Daniel Libeskind, who stressed that “we should forget about the form”, that the Namenmonument project is not his but a project of the Holocaust. He clearly argued that an architect is insignificant in the whole process. When briefly asked what he can do concerning the opposition to his proposed project, Mr. Libeskind responded “it is not about me to do, it is about the people of the Netherlands”. Here I come to that which is puzzling: Mr. Libeskind certainly has knowledge and authority when it comes to dealing with places of memory, someone who should understand how difficult and contentious processes of making national memorials really are and, still, he did not foresee that building a project for one country’s national memory in an open public space is a task of a collective effort? As he himself declared that “architecture is about politics, not politicians only but about politeia which means citizens”, where, then, is the public vote?
Hopefully, future memorial-making initiatives will learn from today that finding an architectural language for a public memorial needs to be a process that is inclusive, considerate and as transparent as possible; and those involved in a decision-making process need to be more attuned to the reality of a given context, cooperative and aim at ways of resolution. This is where designers can give their contribution in understanding the social and spatial context, participating or helping organize public calls for possible solutions and offering innovative ways of approach. After all, we are trying to commemorate a shared past, the consequences of which changed the world. It is exactly the process of making contemporary memorials that demonstrates how much we learned and how we moved away from political systems that led to the tragedies we are today grappling to commemorate.
CATHODE INFUSION FEATURED IN RECONCILIATIONS EXHIBITION| LONDON
Reconciliations is a two-part exhibition running in parallel at the Exchange, Bush House, King’s College London from 1 November-1 December 2018, and at the Knapp Gallery, Regent’s University London, from 1 November 2018-19 January 2019. The exhibitions are part of a major AHRC-funded project, ‘Art & Reconciliation: Conflict, Culture and Community’, led by King’s in collaboration with the University of the Arts London and the London School of Economics. The project is funded by the UK Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC) Partnership for Conflict Crime and Security Research Programme (PaCCS) and by the Global Challenges Research Fund (GCRF).
Art and Reconciliation has explored the politics of reconciliation across the Western Balkans and beyond from a wide variety of perspectives in three strands, History, Discourse and Practice. The exhibitions offer a chance to see the specific project art commissions, as well as other works relating to the broader concept of ‘reconciliation’.
INTERNATIONAL SEMINAR| SARAJEVO
CATHODE INFUSION | SELECTED FOR THE PERMANENT EXHIBITION
‘Cathode infusion’, a commisioned work for the ‘Art & Reconciliation: Conflict, Culture and Community’ project is selected for the permanent exhibition at the Historical Museum in Sarajevo.
MEMORY CONSTELLATION | IN THE NEWS
A SPECIAL AWARD | DESIGN FOR THE MUSEUM OF WAR CHILDHOOD SARAJEVO
THE TUNNEL PROJECT | IN THE NEWS
Anonymously selected as the best design of the competition for the new Memorial Museum and Research Center ‘Tunnel of Hope’ in Sarajevo (2016)
Competition entry (2013)
Co-authors: Hajra Helać, Edina Sujoldžić
competition entry (2012)
Co-authors: Hajra Helać, Edina Sujoldžić
Graduation design Delft University of Technology (2010)
2nd prize of the competition Articulating the water, Almere, The Netherlands (2009)
Co-authors: Lisa Troiano, Joeri Bijster.