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Engel und Zimmermann Architekten

Documentation And Information Centre
By Editorial Staff -

The brief for the new information and documentation centre at Bergen-Belsen, a former Nazi concentration and prisoner of war camp, was put out to competition in 2003. The winning entry by architects Engel and Zimmermann is a monolithic monument in the form of a fairly slender, two-storey block, 200 metres long and 18 wide. Located along the edges of the former camp, of which only few traces remain, the building’s layout is rigorously functional. It stands like a walk-through sculpture reaching out into the Heidewald forest.
The architecture is radical and direct, its emotional impact strong.
The solid volume is pierced only by niches and lights with minimalist frames. The stark geometry, essential materials (unrendered concrete and glass), neutral colours and total absence of any form of decoration reinforce the building’s imposing physical presence. The pure lines create an aura of silence.
There is an abstract tension in the forms and materials that tangibly evoke the terror that reigned at this scene of unspeakable crimes against humanity. The architectural programme is a vibrant statement of how a place of remembrance of past suffering can be coupled to the function of providing a historical documentation centre of Nazism.
The building has been sited where the old road linking Celle to Hörste once ran before the concentration camp changed the landscape. The entrance - laden with symbolism and emotional charge - seems carved out of the solid unrendered concrete wall. The complex comprises two separate units: a reception, information and services area and, immediately behind, the exhibition space proper.
The cantilevered volume of the entrance is the starting point for two separate circulation routes. The first takes visitors into the building, rising almost imperceptibly as it progresses through the exhibition areas. These are set out on three levels reflecting the type of information provided: basic information; more detailed enquiry...

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