The Shoah Memorial stands on a corner property in Drancy, a Parisian suburb. Its front, the narrow façade that gives onto the Rue Jean Jaurès, faces the Cité de la Muette. This U-shaped residential estate was erected between 1932 and 1934. It was subsequently repurposed during German occupation from 1941 to 1944 to serve as an internment camp for the Jewish population being deported. In 1976 a memorial by Shlomo Selinger was erected near the street in the park opposite and in 1988 a freight railcar used by the French rail company was added. Today, Cité de la Muette is considered one of the most significant Shoah Memorials in France.
The building, which serves both as a museum and a memorial, is a four-story varnished concrete construction. The building is set back slightly from the street; the bank of windows running the length of the top floor open it up to the Cité de la Muette on the opposite side. The entrance on the first floor consists of an unframed mirror set into the façade at a slight angle. It is designed to reflect the housing estate and the memorial, thereby making the visitor enter the building with the former internment camp in sight. Inside, the visitor enters the building through security gates and reaches the upper floors by way of a closed stairwell. The second and third floors house the documents and archives and provide classrooms for school lessons. The top floor is as a permanent exhibition space. Here, the files, letters, pictures, and films on display describe the conditions that existed in the internment camps. Together, the three floors form a programmatic unit where staff and visitors share the same space: there exists no separation between the public and the administrative sections.
The memorial’s design and, correspondingly, its function is the mediation of the memory of the Shoah. With its vertically integrated levels and its open façade facing the site of history, the building seeks to ensure the lived engagement with this memory. It was conceived as a “mémoire composé,” as a functional unit that ensures memories are continuously being recollected and kept alive: both in the immediate perception of the site and the objects and its mediation through didactic illustrations. The architecture gains a symbolic character through its programmatic engagement with the location; the mirrored entrance façade creates an indirect and forceful memento that makes history present and calls for a reflected engagement with the events of history.
in Collaboration with Eric Lapierre and J. L. Cohen
Competition: 1st prize, 2006
Client: Mémorial de la Shoah
Location: 110-112 avenue Jean-Jaurès, Drancy, France
Gross Floor Area (GFA): 1.701 m²
Use / Function: Exhibition space, reception hall, documentation and office, education, conference rooms
Structural Engineer: Setec Bâtiment
Mechanical Engineer: Alto-Ingénierie
Local Architect: d2a Management, Eric Lapierre Expérience
Façade Consultant: RFR Structures
Museography: Agence Fluo, Heller Enterprises