Designed by SET Architects, the Shoah Memorial in Bologna, Italy, uses austere materials, towering form and simple construction to encourage quiet contemplation and commemoration of the victims of the Holocaust.
By their very nature, monuments are contentious: they touch on sensitive topics, they involve seemingly numberless stakeholders, and they try to please everyone. Rarely do they rise as poetic expressions devoid of bureaucratic manhandling – which is why the Shoah Memorial in Bologna, Italy, dedicated to Holocaust victims, stands as a testament to the power of quiet contemplation.
The imposing structure is installed in an existing plaza elevated over the city’s new central high-speed train station. It comprises two 10-metre-tall volumes made of Corten steel, aligned to create an interior pathway that narrows at one end, from 160 centimetres wide to just 80, so the diminishing space naturally heightens visitors’ sense of confinement. By day, only a dim light manages to filter into the passage; at night, lights embedded in the pathway illuminate the hollow interiors.
The design represents the first commission and competition win for SET Architects, a newly minted firm based in Rome and led by Lorenzo Catena, Onorato di Manno and Andrea Tanci. It’s a promising sign of things to come, establishing the young architects as ones to watch.
Rather than tell the history of the Holocaust, says Catena, “We were aiming to stimulate emotions.” The corrosion of the steel surface, for instance, will eventually show the passage of time, triggering reflections on the past; the interior grid of empty boxes subtly references the dormitory bunkers in the concentration camps.
“A message of peace and solidarity among different cultures was the key idea for this work,” Catena says. Based on the crowds who gathered for the inauguration, the message was welcomed with open arms.