Peter Zumthor on Peter Eisenman’s 2004 Holocaust memorial and his own working method

From Christopher Turner's review of Peter Zumthor’s Steilneset Memorial to the Victims of the Finnmark Witchcraft Trials, from ICON Magazine

About Eisenman’s memorial he explains that given his goal of creating spaces that have emotional impact and because "As a boy, when I saw memorials of generals on horses I thought they were so boring. I tried to do everything possible here not to have a general on a horse, but an emotional space that brings you as close as possible to the historical dimension." he gets angry when he looks at it.

"It’s still a block without a general, obstacles which could cause other aggressions".

He says he would have proposed a garden instead "If 5 million people get killed, then I would do something which makes life go on. 5,000 oaks and free beer for the next 100 years for everyone in Berlin!"

I can't say that this is the first criticism I have heard of Eisenman's memorial but still I would argue (although granted i haven't been there) that the memorial certainly projects an affect perhaps emotional, of repetitive, claustrophobia, visually if nothing else.

Thoughts to add?


Nov 28, 11 7:18 pm

Ive worked on a few memorials.. some harder than others. Its really difficult, I understand what Zumthor is saying. I think it matters what the memorial is trying to accomplish, who it's for, and what the effect will be. In a way by focusing on building empathy, imparting difficult emotions on the people who move through it, makes it not really a memorial for the victims themselves, but for people who are not victims to feel something of what they felt. But is that enough? Does feeling a little claustrophobic impart anything like what victims of the holocaust felt? Could any memorial? Maybe even just some small signal, that we care, that we remember, that we hurt too is the best we can do. But Id love to think Zumthor is right we could do more, or make some affirmative statement that we all as people believe things can be better.

Nov 28, 11 8:09 pm

When it comes to memorials and the holocaust, I would imagine Europeans have significant challenges in confronting their own demons. I have often wondered is it ever possible for there to be a dialog between Jews and Germans? The numbers of survivors from both sides are dwindling, and it would seem an opportunity is being lost here. Can future Germans ever get passed their past, can Europe get passed it? Or, is it like America and slavery? So while perhaps I can appreciate some of Zumthor's frustration about what it looks like, what I can't appreciate is his naïveté when it comes to confronting the reality, that Europe let this atrocity happen, and let the genocide of Muslims in the 90's to occur. So, until they figure out how to start process of reconciliation,...

Nov 28, 11 10:58 pm

I know what you mean about america and slavery. These things hurt for a long time, even long after the victims have passed away. Part of the trouble is that legacy persisted through the 1960s and 1970's, and still exists today. It takes generations, centuries even to heal from things like that. Antisemitism still exists in europe, and all over the globe, and its tremendously important to remember that. But I dont know if defining guilt, imbuing guilt on all germans, or all europeans living today is really the core emotion a memorial should focus on. Youre building a memory, a marker in space to something that should never be forgotten. But its important to heal. Just as important as recognizing the unimaginable pain of that period, is remembering the incredible human spirit it took to survive, to live on and thrive and make this a better world. The idea of serving beer seems.. I dont know, honestly lacking acknowledgment of the gravity of what a place like that means. This is a hugely difficult balance, and that just seems frivolous to me. but I do appreciate that there is perhaps a missing component to Eisenmans design, and that is to inspire hope, and growth, to remember the spirit that carried survivors through, and still lives on today. 

Nov 29, 11 12:12 pm

Memorials suck.  Tragedy strikes all the time but there's really no need to wedge unpleasant memories into future generations.  They will have plenty of their own mistakes & accompanying emotions to deal with during their own lives, yo!

Nov 29, 11 12:45 pm

I am not sure why Memorials are sometimes so introspective. They advocate a time and a designers’ need for timelessness.  Sometimes they just don’t cross paths well.

Nov 29, 11 3:01 pm

i like the regenerative aspect of Zumthors suggestion, as well oe. and beta i wonder how well eisenman's memorial serves the process of dialog or reconciliation. I suppose it doesn't let one forget in a more visceral way which perhaps forces some sort of processing/recognition. Yet, also wonder if one can combine the demands of memory and need for contemporary meaning/use in different ways. maybe a memorial in park that is a memorial....

Nov 29, 11 8:21 pm

I also think within the context of our discussion of the beer garden/park as an alternative to a more literal form of memorial, about what one could say to the news that a plan for a memorial to Doris Duke is splitting Newport’s Old Guard. Essentially a fight over how to memorialize a square/public park and its creator. All regarding the question of whether it is better to keep it as historic, pre-memorial park or let it become a memorial. Which memorializes better?

Grass, trees and a few boulders, vs adding/outlining a layer of history/memory.

I must say i really like Maya Lin's proposal...


Nov 29, 11 8:53 pm

The plan that has evolved since Ms. Lin signed on last year would place three low-walled structures around the roughly one-acre space of the square, each to be made from salvaged local stone and intended to evoke the foundations of vanished centuries-old buildings that can still be found in the woods throughout New England. Ms. Lin chose the three foundation outlines — a square and two rectangles — from historical Newport maps from the 18th, 19th and 20th centuries, and said in an interview that they appealed to her as a way to give form to the idea of the “layers upon layers of history” that have shaped Newport.

that's so eisenman!

Nov 29, 11 9:14 pm


Nov 30, 11 9:15 am

you mean in terms of layering and historical diagramming?

Nov 30, 11 9:16 am

yes ~ i'm thinking of the wexner center with the armory building foundations (sort of) brought back; also the farmland garden things and all that grid bus(y)iness as a way of showing '... layers upon layers of history' in the design.

Nov 30, 11 9:59 am

Well theres one solution... 

Dec 1, 11 12:04 pm


Dec 1, 11 1:08 pm

hi oe!

Dec 1, 11 1:24 pm
vado retro

can you take a good picture in front of it while making a duckface? does it look good on your facebook page? ah there's the rub.

Dec 2, 11 8:27 am

the problem with eisenman is that he has a little demon inside him. I feel there is always something evil behind his work.

Dec 2, 11 10:50 pm

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