Embarked on an architectural pilgrimage to Germany for six days, in a group of more than 50 students, we began exploring our first stop; the beautifully bustling city of Berlin. In a central location of the city, close to the Reichstag building, stands the Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe on a contoured stretch of 19,000 square metres. Designed by the New York based architect Peter Eisenman, it is an expanse of 2,711 seemingly uniform concrete blocks, varying in height from 0.2 metres to 4.7 metres, placed in a grid formation and giving the first impression as that of a graveyard of concrete tombstones.
Standing at the perimeter of the site, I could interpret the numerous blocks as a symbol of the innumerable lives lost but navigating further into the memorial, more intense emotions engulfed and I realised how shallow it would be to perceive this as just a concrete graveyard representing death. The varying height of the blocks increases and overshadows the visitor as one moves further away from the perimeter towards the core. Nearing the centre is where one truly experiences the powerful emotions this memorial conveys- the feeling of being lost amongst the towering grey concrete that also seemed to represent sorrow and domination. Loosing sight of the site surroundings, further magnifies the emotional impact on the visitor. One could feel the isolation from humanity with an overwhelming sadness and disorientation, as at various places there remains no connection with the rest of the city but only the existence of dominant blocks of mundane grey concrete. The memorial does not merely serve as a commemoration of lives lost, but also symbolically speaks of the suffering, unsympathetic plight and isolation that the Jews endured. This empowering conveyance of emotions is much owed to the undulations in site, more like a wave, forming a much lower level near the core. The narrow grid paths are laid with square paving stones that guide in a linear manner.Towering concrete blocks towards the centre, with a dampness of rain.
No words inscribed on any of the blocks, yet throughout the design there is an intricate message conveyed through symbolism, left open to interpretation by visitors. For instance, the uniformity of the blocks represent lack of individuality to many, while the monochrome colour symbolises dullness and oppression that was once imposed. The prime strength of the memorial lies in its ability to convey such vivid emotions through the simple tools of design- uniformity, colour, volume and an optimal use of land characteristics. We believe that the built environment has a psychological impact and influences the emotions of the inhabitants, and this here is a fine example of how!
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