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Design ideas unveiled for National Holocaust Monument

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he design proposed for Canada’s National Holocaust Monument by Daniel Libeskind and Gail Lord is organized around a stylized Star of David. [Canadian Heritage photo]

OTTAWA — From an abstract structure that resembles a landed UFO to a sunken plaza, the public had a chance to see six design concepts shortlisted for the National Holocaust Monument to be built in Ottawa next year.

Members of the six international design teams, composed of architects, artists and, in some cases, Holocaust scholars, were on hand at the unveiling, which took place in the lobby of the Canadian War Museum on Feb. 20.

A seven-member jury composed of art and urban design professionals, a Holocaust survivor and representation from the National Holocaust Monument Development Council will now recommend its choice to the government. The winning design is expected to be announced this summer.

The monument will be located in the heart of the capital region, at the corner of Wellington and Booth streets, facing the War Museum. The inauguration of the monument’s main elements is scheduled for the fall of 2015.

Last May, teams of professional artists and architects were invited to submit their credentials and examples of their work in the first phase of the competition.

The most well known contestant is American architect Daniel Libeskind who designed Berlin’s Jewish Museum and the 2007 expansion of the Royal Ontario Museum.

He and museum planner Gail Lord of Toronto call their design “Landscape of Loss, Memory and Survival.” They say it is intended to “communicate the hardship and suffering of the victims while conveying a powerful message of humanity’s enduring strength.”

From an aerial view, intersecting triangles can be seen forming a stylized, six-pointed star, organized around a space large enough to hold gatherings of up to 1,000.

The team led by Iranian-Canadian architect Hossein Amanat and Paris-based Israeli artist Esther Shalev-Gerz proposes a 14-metre-high, 20-metre-wide half-sphere in white marble, positioned at an angle on its end, symbolizing a “broken world” after the Holocaust.

Montreal architect Gilles Saucier, who has worked on such projects in his home city as the Rio Tinto Alcan Planetarium and McGill University’s Schulich School of Music, and artist Marie-France Brière have come up with a two-level monument that uses native geology.

Viewers are intended to get the sense of “a large tectonic plate rising out of the ground,” suggesting the upheaval of history. The higher plane, which emerges into the light, symbolizes humanity’s looking to the future.

The team led by Toronto art historian Irene Szylinger and including artist/architect Ron Arad and architect David Adjaye proposes a series of undulating concrete walls that create 22 narrow pathways, the number of countries where Jews were decimated in the Holocaust. The passages give onto a tranquil space for individual contemplation or large gatherings.

Adjaye, a Tanzanian-born Briton, is the lead designer of the new National Museum of African-American History and Culture in Washington, D.C.

The team, headed by Leslie Klein of Quadrangle Architects of Toronto and American scholar Deborah Dwork, submitted a design with three main elements: an 11-metre-high, gravestone-like granite structure, a small birch forest, which has both historical significance and suggests regeneration; and two art installations – one with video by Israeli artist Yael Bartana, the other featuring sound by Scottish artist Susan Philipsz.

The plan of Cambridge, Mass., architect Julian Bonder and artist Krzysztof Wodiczko entails excavating to the site’s bedrock and building a sunken plaza. Aspen trees would be planted in soil that mixes earth from Canada with that from all of the homelands of Canadian Holocaust survivors.

“I am pleased with the high calibre of the teams that have answered our call,” said Shelly Glover, minister of Canadian heritage and official languages. “The future National Holocaust Monument will be a lasting symbol for Canadians and visitors to Canada’s capital region to remember the horror of the Holocaust and how it affected our history.”

Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird added: “This commemoration project will promote a better understanding of the historical events of the Holocaust and how they have affected Canadian history – an understanding that will benefit Canadians in every community across the country.”

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