Culture For The Jewish People Cultural Studies Essay

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Libeskinds a Polish-American Jew who began his career as an architectural academic and only built his first building at the age of 52. He is of the mindset that A building can be experienced as an unfinished journey. It can awaken our desires, propose imaginary conclusions. It is not about form, image or text, but about the experience, which is not to be simulated. A building can awaken us to the fact that it has never been anything more than a huge question mark. I believe that this project joins Architecture to questions that are now relevant to all people. (Libeskind, 2001, p.74).

Basically when taken in the context of museum design Libeskinds statement can be interpreted as his building is a work of art that requires no art within it. One is immediately prompted to question would this be at the cost of functionalism? The Berlin Jewish museum is no doubt splendid and innovative in its use of form and material strutting as a twisted metal zigzag along the Berlin landscape in stark contrast to the adjacent Baroque style German museum. But it is believed to confuse laymen whilst navigating the structure, with large redundant voids at the expense of spacious galleries.

Berlin Jewish Museum

Considering that the core idea of Libeskind's approach to building the Jewish museum was the shattered Star of David, it becomes clear that this was never going to be a traditional museum. The main building is covered with zinc plating, and the windows are just lines that cross the surface in a random fashion. These lines were created from connecting different sites in a Berlin map that are important to Jewish history thus restricting display wall spaces within.

The window opening at Berlin Jewish museum (Public Source Photography)

The German museum (Public Source Photography)

This building cannot be entered directly from the street. The entrance is from the adjoining Baroque style German museum; this was done by erecting a triangular structure scaling the entire old museum height and housing a narrow stairway leading down into Libeskinds museum. This was intentionally done to symbolize the merging of the German and Jewish history with all its atrocities. Had any thought been given to the functionality of this decision because it is a well researched fact that museum entrances are bottlenecks with many a tour group trying to navigate the spaces like headless chicken.

Arial model view of entire museum depicting the three Axis(Public Source Photography)

The narrow never ending stairway leads to an underground site, composed of three walkways, called axis: The Axis of Death, ends at void concrete tower, called The Holocaust Tower.

Holocaust tower (Public Source photography)

Garden of Exile (Public Source photography)

The Axis of Exile, which leads to an outside garden courtyard which contains a square platform with forty nine concrete columns. The platform has been tilted at one end to create a degree of disorientation in all who walk through them. This has been named the Garden of Exile; and The Axis of Continuity, that intersects through the other two hallways, representing the permanence of Jews in Germany in spite of the Holocaust and the Exile.

Stairway in to the Berlin Jewish Museum from the German Museum (Public Source photography)

When one describes the Berlin Jewish Museum it is apparent that this building was always going to overpower anything displayed within it thus breaking the number one rule of museum design. Is this a museum or a house of horrors? Is it a museum or a monument? (Winefield, 2006) He was not alone in voicing this opinion there were other too who felt that this was almost a Disney interpretation of something so dark in history thus generating a negative vibe as not many in Germany would understand the Americanised interpretation resulting in the trivializing an unforgivable period in history. Take for example the American sense of humour; it is literal in its delivery and appreciation. One would call it slapstick for a better word. Whilst the European sense of humour is more satirical and subtle in its delivery. Thus leaving it up to the viewer to interpret what is being communicated.

British Humour American slapstick humour (Photographer ,Martin Skoog, free web distribution)

And rather than feeling something profound, you almost expect moving platforms and leaping ghosts, as in an amusement parks house of horrors. (Rothstein, 2009). This reaction was reached due to the excessive symbolising of certain aspects of the Jewish struggles like the anguished faces named the fallen leaves representing all the lives lost and the choice of narration.

Fallen leaves (Public Source photography)

Narratives seem to intrude into the viewers grasp of the projected art, where quietness and reflection would have enhanced the personal experience the distraction leaves the viewer disappointed.

The fallen leaves covers the entire corridor (Public Source photography)

Libeskind is said to have lost family members in the Holocaust did this attribute to his need to turn a Jewish history and interracial tolerance museum into a Holocaust sculptor thus negating the artefacts displayed and is better served as a Holocaust memorial.

Libeskind tilts the walls and floor in the odd shaped spaces whilst the journeying through the building. This has been created to disorient and invade the personal space of the viewer in order to give them an added physical experience as they view the artefacts but in most cases since the museum was to showcase tolerance between races and just not only remind the viewer of the Holocaust at this point a conflict arises.

The gallery spaces (Public Source photography)

It isnt even a real museum thus violating its brief -- rather its a monument to Libeskinds own view of Jewish history. (Winefield, 2006). Basically this museum forces the viewer to view Libeskinds interpretation of history rather than with your own eyes, full of the authors bias and limited by the photographers lens. This in principle is violation of a viewers fundamental rights when visiting a museum. One could easily sit at home or watch on TV about the media or an authors interpretation of the holocaust. Rather one visits a museum to observe experience and draw their personal conclusion on any given aspect of the holocaust.

Moshe Safdie

Let us study the other holocaust museum, this time in Israel, by architect Moshe Safdie. As the Jewish living memorial to the holocaust, Yad Vashem on the mount of rememberance in the eternal city of Jerusalem stands guard to the memory of the past and imparts its meaning to future generations. This memorial contains commemeration, education, documentation and research on the holocaust. As a result it has become a dynamic and vital place for intergenerational and international encounters.

Moshe Safdie, Architect of Yad Vashem holocaust museum (Public Source photography)

Plan View of the Yad Vashem Holocaust Museum(Public Source photography)

Moshe Safdie, a Canadian Jew, spent his formative years in Israel and from an early age wanted to design his own Kibbutz which would be affordable, practical and offer greater interaction. Here was a man who said It is inconceivable that something which is not functional should be beautiful 3 .Safdies approach to design involves working with the landscape and neighbourhood.

This is in stark contrast to I.M Peis Louvre glass pyramid which interrupts the surrounding of French Baroque architecture and stands out like a sore thumb.

I.M Peis Lourve Pyramid ( Public Source photography )

The spiral staircase at the Pyramid (Public Source photography)

The glass pyramid as an individual element has been identified for its beauty but falls short on practicality with its single spiral staircase as the main access to the structure and the galleries beneath.

Yad Vashem Holocaust Museum

In the case of the Yad Vashem Holocaust museum with its site being a delicate hill, Safdie could not envisage placing 50,000 sq ft of built space on this hill, he saw it as disruption to the surrounding leaving the the visitor disturbed.

As a result he decided to carve through the hill as seen below and generate a series of chambers on either side of the passage to hold the artefacts. This experience will give the impression to the visitor that they are travelling into galleries being embedded deeper and deeper within the mountain.

Early sketches of Yad Vashem Holocaust museum by Moshe Safdie (Public Source photography)

Taking into consideration the group tours are popular visitors to museums he created a separate mevoah which is an arcaded pavilion reception with trellised ceiling which cast and interesting play of light with restaurants and toilets and car parking underground. The Holocaust Museum is linked to the reception by a wide bridge.


Bridge to prism cantilevering prism (Public Source photography)

The museum is a prism-shaped triangular concrete structure that penetrates the mountain from one side to the other, with both ends unexpectedly cantilevering into the open air. An experiential dimension was integrated into the museum's design, giving visitors an overall impression of the time, place and atmosphere. Inside the museum, on either sides of the central hallway which spans the entire prism lie easily accessible sixty-foot high gallery spaces. These underground galleries depict different chapters of the Shoah.

Gallery spaces

Central hallway

Skylight into the hallway (Public Source photography)

The slightly tilted floor and decreasing central hallway with the changing narrative, gives the impression that one is travelling deeper into the mountain. Different aspects of the Holocaust are portrayed through the use of original artefacts, documentation, testimonies, film, literature, diaries, letters, and works of art.

Safdie has been accused of building monumental buildings like the Ontario National Gallery and the Sikh Museum in India but here the spaces are appropriate to convey the enormity of Jewish identity. The spaces themselves enhance the artefacts within the museum.

The building plays homage to Jewish struggle by celebrating the occupied state of Israel by means of a cantilevered deck at the end of the pyramid overlooking the valley.

By designing these vistas the architect has given the visitor the freedom to determine the level of emotion and control over their observation and deduction. Thus, making a visit to this museum a very personal experience for the visitor.

View over the valley at the end of the prism (Public Source photography)

The funnel containing picture of the victims (Public Source photography)

Now Consider Frank Gehrys Guggenheim museum, it is a cultural phenomenon, so famous that Bilbao virtually did not exist before the existence of the Frank Gehrys Guggenheim. Fodor implies that the time in Bilbao can now be regarded as BG and AG (before Guggenheim & after Guggenheim), and millions of tourists flocked to Bilbao justto visitthat museum (Fodors, 2009) the sole and probably only attraction in the city.

In the late nineties, Guggenheim Bilbao was the talk of the town; media bandwagon went on overdrive as a result Frank Gehrys popularity quadrupled. This is living proof that architectural work can really put a place back on the world map.

Guggenhiem Bilbao(Public Source photography)

What made this building so exceptional? One can only assume that Frank Gehry through his ingenuity, after all one has to give the devil its due credit, intended capture the viewers attention with a single glance. So much so, that every medium that carried an image of Guggenheim Bilbao was so impressive that it automatically become the coffee table conversation from that day forward.

Gehry had the foresight to predict that in order to grab instant attention he had to create something weird and wonderful. But did he go too far with Guggenheim Bilbao and end up with a piece of art instead of a building. This was structure that challenged our perception towards the so-modernist, square buildings.

The Guggenheim Bilbao is extremely warped in shape, and the material, from titanium cladding is so contradictory, the light reflected on the Guggenheim Bilbao is so spectacular and unusual that the closest comparison would be of shinny fish scales.

The titanium cladding at Guggenheim Bilbao

Closeup of a fish scale (Public Source photography)

But, that is just on first impression. But with all its popularity Guggenheim Bilbao is a highly flawed piece of work.

The Guggenheim Bilbao has also been heavily criticised. Frank Gehrys Guggenheim Bilbao and Daniel Libeskinds Jewish Museum in Berlin, while recognized as often drawing mass appeal and admiration, such buildings may also fight against the other agendas of the museum, confirming to the broad public that museums are not for the (Macleod, Suzanne,2005, pg 2). Yet again, its architectural forms might be great, but not its architectural spaces. It has been claimed by many that Guggenheim Bilbao is very uninviting up close and personal. The monumentary scale has just simply forsaken the relationship with human perception. The river frontage of the Guggenheim Bilbao is so void of emotion that it hardly draws people. Is architecture in this scenario evoking unwanted issue rather than solving them.

Guggenheim: The river side

The zigzag railing staircase (Public Source photography)

The use of a zigzag railing with wide steps in a public place seems bizarre and a health hazard. It has been observed that when there is a crowd that these staircase turns into a bottleneck. The steps are very wide have a small height difference between them.

Overall, Frank Gehry has done justice to Bilbao, and how he captured the viewer instant attention is amazing. On second thoughts, one is compelled dislike the disjointedness in architecture, not really on the forms itself, but more towards the design process, it can be easily be labelled artsy.

In Conclusion

One can satisfactorily conclude that there seems to be a trend towards contemporary architecture being overwhelmed by egoism at the cost of functionality by the few elitist. Just look at Vegas where each structure is monumental and makes its own statement without any consideration for its neighbourhood.

Las Vegas Skyline (Public Source photography)

But everything has its limits like in Jerusalem, Frank Gehrys design for the Tolerance museum was shot down like a bullet by the client as it was deemed to be way too extravagant and costly. It is high time architects comprehend client needs before stroking their ego. Moshe Safdie in his Museum design seems to have arrived at a fair medium whilst the Yad Vashem Holocaust has addressed all function al issue in no way has it compromised on its design aesthetics and remains a striking testament to the Jewish race.

Daniel Libeskinds a Malaysian development proposal (Public Source photography)

But let us be fair to the flip-side of the argument, restricting creativity of the architect might curtailing progress. After all, from new endeavours and challenges rises new concepts otherwise we would be stuck in a time warp in terms of architectural development. A prime example of forward thinking architecture would have Frank Lloyd Wrights Falling Water. This was a work of a genius who blended enormous cantilevered concrete structure so sublimely in to the landscape. Functionally this building had many flaws specially when it rained and the downpour affected the building. In a sense this was like a challenge left by Frank Lloyd Wright to the modern day contemporary architects who churn out atypical structures that fail to kindle our imagination.

Falling Water (Public Source photography)

The writers own design direction for her project was inspired by Daniel Libeskinds Berlin Jewish museum. Libeskind has broken all the principles of a gallery design and in the process accomplished the task heightening emotions to varying form from the visitor. Perhaps the existence of a few egoistical architects who overlook aspects of functionality in order to create visual wonders may be judged a good thing for the progress of contemporary architecture.

But like in life itself anything in excess like if all contemporary architects objectives was to create unique building with no consideration for the surrounding in order to stroke their egos would be fool-hardly short-sighted way forward because functional buildings give rise to communities.

Daniel Libeskind is said to have laughed at all the architects who bid for the Jewish museum project, they were busy photographing the site and the surroundings prior to design. He believed his design idea for the Jewish museum could be built on any site. Do we consider this mode of thinking the mindset of a genius or a madman? Unfortunately there is no sufficient answer to put our minds at rest and the likelihood that we will only know the answer once the damage has been done to our urban development is very high.

Daniel Libeskind development models (Public Source photography)

Contemporary architecture needs to learn from the cycle of life. Any creation flawed at conception is going to result in defective adults however beautiful they might be on the surface and as a result never reaching their full potential, in once opinion, buildings are no different.

Finally the writer would like to leave all the readers with this thought. Would you like your neighbourhood to look like a busy day at the scrap yard? This would be a case of ego overtaking common sense.

A skyline gone wayward (Public Source photography)

Work Cited


Fodor , 2009 , Fodor's Spain 2010, Fodor's Travel Publications, ISBN 1400008646, 9781400008643

Davenport, P, 2001, Interview with Daniel Libeskind,Trafford Today Newspaper, tm, 24.1.2001

Libeskind, D, 2001,The Space of Encounter, London: Thames & Hudson

Macleod, S, 2005, Reshaping museum space: architecture, design, exhibitions, Taylor & Francis

Rothstein, E, 2009, In Berlin, Teaching Germanys Jewish History, New York Times,

Published: May 1, 2009

Winefield, R, 2006, ARCHITECTURE DEBATE: Response to Berlin's Jewish Museum


Cattermole, P; Ian Westwell, 2007, Bizarre Buildings, Firefly Books (September 14, 2007)

Libeskind, D, 1999, Jewish Museum Berlin, Verlag der Kunst (June 1999), ISBN: 9057012529

Mathewson, C, 2007, Frank O. Gehry: Selected Works: 1969 to Today, Firefly Books (October 12, 2007)

Metzinger, T, 2010, The Ego Tunnel: The Science of the Mind and the Myth of the Self, Basic Books; First Trade Paper Edition edition (July 27, 2010)

Ockman,J ; Safdie, M; Shalev, A; Wiesel E, 2006,Yad Vashem: Moshe Safdie - The Architecture of Memory ,Lars Mller Publishers; 1 edition (Oct 20 2006)

Schneider, B; Libeskind D, 1999, Daniel Libeskind Jewish Museum Berlin: Jewish Museum Berlin: Between the Lines (Architecture), Prestel Publishing; illustrated edition edition (May 1999)

1 ICOM Statutes. International Council of Museums. Retrieved on 2008-04-05.

2 .Frequently asked questions. Museums Association. Retrieved on 2008-04-05.

3 Jewish-Sephardic Voice, Issue 6, Vol 1, March 15, 2005