Lahdelma & Mahlamäki Architects

Lahdelma & Mahlamäki Architects

Helsinki, FI


The Lost Shtetl, a Jewish Museum and Memorial in Lithuania, Breaks Ground

On Friday 4th May the ground-breaking ceremony will take place in Šeduva, Lithuania, for The Lost Shtetl Museum and Memorial designed by Lahdelma & Mahlamäki Architects. The ceremony will mark the official start of on-site preparations for the construction of the 3000m2 museum, which will stand to remember and teach about life in what was a predominantly Jewish area – before local populations were decimated by the Holocaust. 

The event will be attended by high-profile participants including the representative of the President of Lithuania Dalia Grybauskaite; Prime Minister of Lithuania Saulius Skvernelis; Speaker of the Lithuanian Parliament Viktoras Pranckietis; Minister for Foreign Affairs of Lithuania Linas Linkevicius; Christer Michelsson, the Ambassador of Finland to Lithuania, along with 13 other Ambassadors; as well as donors from Australia and the USA. Prof. Rainer Mahlamäki, co-founder of Lahdelma & Mahlamäki Architects and principal designer for the museum, will also be attending.

The Lost Shtetl is at the same time a memorial and a museum. The entity is a remembrance of a lost village, but also a universal interpretation of community living and about the physical environment, where we all have the right to live. No other goals have been set to the symbolism of the building –the village itself will tell the story of life.

The museum and memorial stand to remember the lost Jewish communities (shtetls) of Lithuania, in particular the ones that stood on the same very site. In style, scale and programme The Lost Shtetl references and remembers the past lives of Lithuanian Jews which were decimated by the Holocaust.

The museum architecture and exhibition are created to be one coherent singularity - both working to tell the story together. The functions are gathered in a modern representation of the ‘shtetl’ where each function is housed in its own “house” - the function and the meaning of each house determines its individual form. Large pitched roofs, reaching upwards, bring a powerful yet solemn atmosphere to the interior spaces. Whilst directly representing the roofs of the past shtetls, the forms also create a sense of importance and distinction within the museum. Light flows softly in from cracks in the top of the roofs, gently illuminating the spaces below.

The sloped building site provides the opportunity to create a museum on two levels. Entrance is granted from the upper level, where administration spaces, reception and the multipurpose hall are. To access the exhibitions, visitors are required to descend into the lower levels of the building.

From the outside, the building masses appear as both a single mass and an entire village. The detailing of all the buildings creates a uniform exterior, over every wall and roof; the cladding wraps all around the building. The design constantly refers back to the vernacular architecture of the surrounding area. In this cladding, the surface resembles a traditional shake, shingle or tile roof that has roots in local building traditions.

The museum is also a celebration of a lost culture; one that was lively, colourful and vibrant. The modest modern architecture functions as a backdrop that enhances smaller hints to the past. Traditional ornamentation and actual historic building components are allowed to stand out; such as doors and stained glass mosaic windows.

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Status: Under Construction
Location: Seduva, LT
Firm Role: Lead Designer