To delimit. Museum of Memory and Human Rights

by diego terna

text published on C3 Magazine, n.307 1003


pictures from

In 1949, Michele Fiorentino and Giuseppe Perugini attended the opening of the Mausoleum of Fosse Ardeatine in Rome, a project that commemorated the civilian victims of Nazi soldiers in 1944.
The Mausoleum is a perfect Euclidean box, in deliberate contrast to the surrounding wavy terrain and the nearby caves: a clear mark in the territory, that reminder of an event which should never happen again.
A painful universe, almost crushed by a heavy volume of materiality, hovers at the site of the massacre, closed to the outside except for a few glimmers of light. It is a sad canto, which destroys at once the heavy legacy of Fascist architecture, and denounces the dictatorship that caused this tragedy.

O God, I could be bounded in a nutshell, and count myself a king of infinite space.

William Shakespeare, The Tragedy of Hamlet, Prince of Denmark, Act II, Scene II, 1600-01.

Developing a limited physical space does not demolish its internal complexity, but, indeed, may increase it considerably, concentrating the area of possible and therefore the efforts to build it.

Around 1600 Shakespeare exalted the human spirit, its intelligence and aspirations, and, through Hamlet, presents a man who cannot stop to limit his thinking, regardless of the physical space that surrounds it. Perhaps the constraint of the space is the key to an infinite mental explosion.

The construction of a limit, then, becomes a way to enhance the content, broaden its scope, concentrate and then expand it.

A Suspended Museum

pictures by Cristobal Palma

A memory that must not die can be transformed into a sacred space, enlarged, and changed into a monument: this was done in Rome in 1949, and then in Santiago, Chile, in 2010, with the Museum of Memory and Human Rights, designed by Estudio America.

A large box of painful memories, honoring thousands of people who died or disappeared under the Pinochet dictatorship: a dictatorship that humiliated its people and that future generations cannot afford to forget, if they wish to break that cycle of violence.

Estudio America has limited the physical space of memories to a well defined limit, one that is stereometrically clear, and that stands out from the surrounding urban area. It attracts the attention of passersby, and so focuses on the content inside.

It is not just a building of simple geometry, but rather a large ark: it contains the country’s need to tell its history and so improve itself. The architecture, therefore, has this single purpose: the crystalline clarity of the object as a container of history, as a place to enhance memory.

The urban development reinforces the image of the museum: this is accessible from the bottom, where the soil is depleted below the building, further isolating the object and emphasizing its strict opposition to the complexity of the multifaceted ramps. The box becomes a large beam, which leans to extremes, a purely structural gesture that becomes space that does nothing but forcefully express the perfect edge of the box.

But here, unlike the Roman mausoleum, the limit is an ambiguous edge, consisting of a multi-layered skin, but never opaque: the first layer is a orthogonal grating fixing the transparent glass, then the main structure of the beam, creates a deformed pattern that is forced into the boundary of the box, then a dense colored mesh.
The limit then becomes fleeting: the view from outside is partial, almost secret, and requires the visitor to enter in order to discover the contents. Inside, photos of the martyrs of the dictatorship gaze at visitors, admonishing them, telling them of an infinite sadness, without concealing the exterior. Outside, you can build a better world, one that the whole nation can use to transform its past into a positive thought.