Saturday, August 20, 2005

Release toward Heaven

Moshe Safdie is a Canadian architect who made his first big mark as the designer for a cluster of prototypical dwelling units at the Montreal Expo of 1967. Since then his designs have gone from 'metabolist' to post modern to expressionist. His most recent project, the Yad Vashem Holocaust History Museum in Jerusalem, punctures the landscape and opens an elegant incision to reveal the lives of those murdered from the violent genocide during the second world war. In plan the top level consists of a dynamic relationship of shapes in the forms of skylights, clerestories, and openings to the level below. My first impression looking at the top plan was of a Russian constructivist painting or of the plan of Tschumi's Park de La Villete scheme. Compare this abstract composition at grade level with an eerily romanesque subterranean arrangement of spaces in the lower plan. The axes formed by the main hallways and the terminating apses combine to form a cummulative yet an orderly and unified composition while the peristyle and hypostyle columned halls and circular rooms invoke sacredness and mystery. It also reminds me of a Roman catacomb in its seemingly labyrinthian and insular qualities. This contrasts with the seemingly arbitrary assembly of rectangles and lines at ground level whose relationship to each other is more about the ambiguous spaces in between than about the connected procession of spaces below. The upper plan's similarity to pyramid complexes in Egypt is probably a coincidence, but this memorial achieves a monumentality in almost the same way, by marking a distinct assembly of forms on the landscape in very deliberate and mystical way. I would like to believe that the concrete walls that sweep out at the very end are gestures of a praying hand. But observing how this sculptural opening is at the end of a long a deep trench lit by a continuous open slit above suggests the anticipation of a resurrection, an escape from the earth to the clear sky of the heavens beyond. Overall, some powerful and bold spaces, from the few photos I've seen of this project.

Hat tip to Joe N at No Pasaran! He provides more pictures and commentary of this project.

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