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A rendering of designs for Canada’s National Holocaust Monument (Lord Cultural Resources)
A rendering of designs for Canada’s National Holocaust Monument (Lord Cultural Resources)

National Holocaust Monument design unveiled Add to ...

The design of Canada’s National Holocaust Monument will be led by the architect associated with New York’s Ground Zero and Berlin’s Jewish Museum.

Daniel Libeskind has won a design competition for the Ottawa project, in combination with photographer Edward Burtynsky, landscape architect Claude Cormier and museum planners Lord Cultural Resources.

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The decision was announced Monday in Ottawa by Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird and Minister of Canadian Heritage and Official Languages Shelly Glover at the site of the monument - a field across from the Canadian War Museum, on the LeBreton Flats about a kilometre from Parliament Hill.

The federal government announced the monument in April, 2013, as a permanent place to commemorate the victims of the Holocaust and honour Canadian survivors; Canada currently has no such site. It will be overseen by the National Capital Commission. A fundraising council is aiming to raise $4.5-million for the construction of the project, with matching funds from the government of up to $4-million.

The plans for the project combine architecture, landscape and art. Visitors will take a “journey through a star” - a concrete structure that, viewed from above, resembles a six-pointed star, the symbol of Jewish identity. It consists of several triangular spaces; according to a statement from the design team, these are meant to evoke the triangular badges used to classify prisoners in concentration camps, including Jews, Roma, gay people, and mentally and physically disabled people.

"It’s very much designed as an experience - it’s not a monument that you just look at from afar, but it draws you in as a visitor,” explains Dov Goldstein, a principal consultant at Lord and the project’s coordinator.

Within the monument, original photographs by Burtynsky of Holocaust sites, death camps, killing fields and forests, will be embedded into concrete. And a landscape surrounding the monument, designed by Cormier, will include a forest of coniferous trees growing out of rocky ground, a nod to the forests of eastern Europe and a living symbol of how survivors and their children have changed Canada.

The project will be a significant piece of architecture and urban design in Ottawa, and notable because of the international reputations of all four players - especially Libeskind (who was born in Poland but lives in the U.S.) and the Canadian Burtynsky. They were brought together by Lord Cultural Resources, which organized what Goldstein calls “a multidisciplinary and multicultural team” for an integrated process including historian Doris Bergen.

Goldstein praises Libeskind’s “brilliant architecture and his sensitivity to the subject matter.” (Libeskind’s parents both survived the Holocaust and each lost most of their extended families.) His aesthetic touch is clear. The proposal's complex structure employs Libeskind’s trademark crystalline forms, which first appeared on his Jewish Museum in Berlin, completed in 1999. That museum building is a zigzagging and jagged form that is notoriously difficult to program. It employed architectural symbolism for the fate of Europe’s Jews and other victims of the Holocaust: It is a series of shards, pierced by voids, and visitors end up in a "Garden of Exile.”

Libeskind is also closely associated with the most significant memorial project of the past 20 years - Ground Zero in Manhattan, where he designed a master plan for the site of the 9/11 attacks that was capped with a 1776-foot-tall “Freedom Tower.” Libeskind saw these ideas embraced by the public in New York, but his role in the redevelopment project was reduced dramatically.

Libeskind's main project in Canada so far has been the Royal Ontario Museum’s Lee-Chin Crystal in Toronto, which employs similar forms - there, according to Libeskind, meant to evoke the museum’s collection of geological crystals.

The Ottawa monument is largely designed now, and will start construction this summer and with a planned opening in the fall of 2015. “It’s an important monument for all Canadians to understand about tolerance about human rights, racial hatred, bigotry, and anti-Semitism, and I think it’s an important signifier to remind Canadians of all that,” Goldstein says. "But it’s also a monument to the survivors - and it's important for Jews and for all Canadians for that reason, to commemorate, remember and to recognize human dignity."

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