The Evidence Room is a powerful installation which reconstructs key objects used in the forensic analysis of the architecture of Auschwitz. Historian Robert Jan van Pelt introduced the objects as evidence in a court case to demonstrate that Auschwitz was purposefully designed as a death camp.
This ground-breaking research became a source for a new and emerging discipline—architectural forensics—encompassing architecture, technology, history, law and human rights.
The Evidence Room, constructed entirely in white, focuses on the coldly calculated architectural decisions which culminated in a factory of death. Full-scale reconstructions of three key components of the Auschwitz gas chambers—a gas column, gas-tight door, and gas-tight hatch—and over 60 plaster casts of architectural evidence, such as blueprints, contractors’ bills and photographs, speak eloquently as silent material witnesses to the horrors of Auschwitz.
This haunting installation stands as a tangible reminder of the Holocaust, one of the darkest periods of the 20th century. The Evidence Room compels us to confront the devastating consequences of our potential inhumanity towards one another.
The show, as it moves from the context of the Architecture Biennale to the ROM, is being “augmented,” van Pelt said. When I visited the team’s Cambridge studio, they had completed a scale model of a section of Auschwitz; this “serves to situate you and to provide a sense of the scale,” van Pelt said. At the same time, a graduate student, Bradley Paddock, was completing a scale model of one of Auschwitz’s “crematoria”: a long, chalet-like structure that contained a gas chamber and a crematorium for burning corpses. Paddock’s painstaking model reveals it as a skillfully designed building. “These [façades] are quite well handled,” van Pelt said musingly.
Clearly, the architects knew what they were doing.
That is an awkward fact and the Evidence Room at times creates such tensions. Its emphasis on place is unorthodox; most writings about the Nazi death camps are told from the perspectives of the survivors. The installation emphatically does not aestheticize or reproduce the death camps, and yet is, in its own unusual way, a sort of memorial to what happened there. “It’s important for us to look like some care was taken,” McKay said.