Venice 2016 – Visitors walk in a white room with a a gridded column, a door and a ladder. At a first glimpse you might don’t notice much, but, as you move around, shadows and images start to appear from white casted panels on the walls. You reached The Evidence Room. At the Central Pavilion of Venice Biennale (Giardini) a touching exhibition narrates how architects and academics contributed to win a trial against a Holocaust denier. The team provided a forensic analysis of the architecture of Auschwitz and proving that the site was purposefully designed as a factory of death that actually killed over 1.1 million people, 90% of whom were Jews.
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Behind the extermination camp’s design there was a death-squad with compasses and blueprints instead of guns, a team of criminals who sat at a table to commit genocide with their architectural and engineering skills. The gridded metal structure is actually a high-performative gas column while the whit door on show used to lead to a gas chamber that was reinforced and equipped with a small cage to “protect” the peep-hole from the victims inside the room. The shadows appearing on the walls reveal blueprints, architects’ letters, contractors’ bills, and photographs of the site.
“With this exhibition we address to the social and political responsibility of architects. Here you can see the absolute bottom, the worst crime that architecture has ever committed” said Robert Jan Van Pelt to ArchiPanic. “You can truly talk about the good things done by architects by knowing also the worst things ever achieved. Archimedes once said “Give me a fix point and I can move the world”. In this room there is that fixed point”.
The forensics on display show the architectural and engineering work and effort to create a very efficient mass-murdering factory. “Just the 8 gas column killed about 700.000 people, and that is more Hiroshima nuclear bomb. The whole system had to be constantly “improved” both in technology and logistics in order to keep up with the increasing of killings per day”.
The Evidence Room exhibition is part of a larger research project and a publication by professors Anne Bordeleau, Donald McKay, Robert Jan van Pelt and Sascha Hastings, together with a team of students and consultants from The University of Waterloo School of Architecture in Cambridge, Canada.
THE TRIAL – The research work behind The Evidence Room project started when a notorious British Holocaust denier sued an American historian and her publisher for libel. In the trial the denier pointed to the liability of the accused stating that there was not proof of a systematic plan to exterminate six million European Jews.
Robert Jan van Pelt appeared to court presenting a forensic interpretation of the blueprints and architectural remains of Auschwitz that became crucial in what remains to date the most decisive victory against Holocaust denial, compelling evidence of the Nazi campaign of murder.
THE EXHIBITION DESIGN – “At first sight there is a white room. The installation invites those willing to to read to look closely and discover the contents and message. The white cast panels refer to dead masks. A delicate and humble game of shadows reveals details that seem to fade and move” says to ArchiPanic, Anne Bordelau, professor at Waterloo University, Canada, that contributed to the research of the project and and design of the exhibition.
BUILDING A GAS COLUMN – Micheal Nugent is a 22 years old student at The University of Waterloo School of Architecture who contributed to the installation re-creating also a replica of the gas chambers columns: “The original columns were destroyed, so we had to work on plans, survivors’ drawings and photos to understand how it was conceived and how it worked. It has been a very very hard work on it as it required to put yourself in the mind of the original designer”.
The extensive research and story of The Evidence Room is published in a dedicated publication that features further forensics, testimonies and reflections.
Photos: courtesy of The Evidence Room.