Launch Slideshow

Illinois Holocaust Museum

Illinois Holocaust Museum & Education Center

The Illinois Holocaust Museum in Skokie, Ill.—a Chicago suburb that is home to a large number of survivors—is the closest Tigerman has come to building an overtly religious structure based on his interpretation of his Jewish upbringing.

Illinois Holocaust Museum & Education Center

The Illinois Holocaust Museum in Skokie, Ill.—a Chicago suburb that is home to a large number of survivors—is the closest Tigerman has come to building an overtly religious structure based on his interpretation of his Jewish upbringing.

  • Illinois Holocaust Museum

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    Illinois Holocaust Museum

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    William Zbaren

    Illinois Holocaust Museum

  • Illinois Holocaust Museum

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    Illinois Holocaust Museum

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    Copyright 2010 David Seide/DefinedSpace.com

    Illinois Holocaust Museum

  • A cylindrical volume that houses the Book of Reflection is situated at the connecting point between the dark and light volumes of the museum. The cylinder punches through the roof plane and is topped by six riveted steel spires called Points of Light that represent the 6 million Jews who were killed in the Holocaust.

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    A cylindrical volume that houses the Book of Reflection is situated at the connecting point between the dark and light volumes of the museum. The cylinder punches through the roof plane and is topped by six riveted steel spires called Points of Light that represent the 6 million Jews who were killed in the Holocaust.

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    William Zbaren

    A cylindrical volume that houses the Book of Reflection is situated at the connecting point between the dark and light volumes of the museum. The cylinder punches through the roof plane and is topped by six riveted steel spires, called Points of Light, that represent the 6 million Jews who were killed in the Holocaust.

  • The Room of Remembrance is a doubleheight volume  located on the third floor of the museum. Flanked by Jerusalem stone columns a book containing the names of those killed during the Holocaust and memories penned by family and community members serves as the focal point of the space. Bentwood uplit panels were painted with names of the dead in English Yiddish and Hebrew. First names were used so as to represent as many individuals as possible the names are 212 inches high at the base and increase in size as they move toward the ceiling. The names begin in a full rich black at the base which turns into a midtone black at the top. This was a nod to an idea by a community member to have smoke coming from behind the book of names a proposal that was not carried out because of fire regulations.

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    The Room of Remembrance is a doubleheight volume located on the third floor of the museum. Flanked by Jerusalem stone columns a book containing the names of those killed during the Holocaust and memories penned by family and community members serves as the focal point of the space. Bentwood uplit panels were painted with names of the dead in English Yiddish and Hebrew. First names were used so as to represent as many individuals as possible the names are 212 inches high at the base and increase in size as they move toward the ceiling. The names begin in a full rich black at the base which turns into a midtone black at the top. This was a nod to an idea by a community member to have smoke coming from behind the book of names a proposal that was not carried out because of fire regulations.

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    Copyright 2010 David Seide/DefinedSpace.com

    The Room of Remembrance is a double-height volume located on the third floor of the museum. Flanked by Jerusalem stone columns, a book containing the names of those killed during the Holocaust and memories penned by family and community members serves as the focal point of the space. Bent-wood, uplit panels were painted with names of the dead, in English, Yiddish, and Hebrew. First names were used so as to represent as many individuals as possible; the names are 2 1/2 inches high at the base and increase in size as they move toward the ceiling. The names begin in a full, rich black at the base, which turns into a mid-tone black at the top. This was a nod to an idea by a community member to have smoke coming from behind the book of names, a proposal that was not carried out because of fire regulations.

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    Courtesy Tigerman McCurry Architects

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    Courtesy Tigerman McCurry Architects

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    Courtesy Tigerman McCurry Architects

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    Courtesy Tigerman McCurry Architects

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    Courtesy Tigerman McCurry Architects

  • The first room visitors enter is the Prologue a dark space with no access to natural light and with a raw materiality expressed in concrete floors CMU walls and a heavy steel reception desk.

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    The first room visitors enter is the Prologue a dark space with no access to natural light and with a raw materiality expressed in concrete floors CMU walls and a heavy steel reception desk.

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    William Zbaren

    The first room visitors enter is the Prologue, a dark space with no access to natural light and with a raw materiality expressed in concrete floors, CMU walls, and a heavy steel reception desk.

  • In the white volume glazing creates lightfilled spaces that drive home the contrast between light and dark that exists throughout the space. The dark triangular trusses of the first volume give way to white arced beams like those in this circulation space by the museum shop.

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    In the white volume glazing creates lightfilled spaces that drive home the contrast between light and dark that exists throughout the space. The dark triangular trusses of the first volume give way to white arced beams like those in this circulation space by the museum shop.

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    Copyright 2010 David Seide/DefinedSpace.com

    In the white volume, glazing creates light-filled spaces that drive home the contrast between light and dark that exists throughout the space. The dark triangular trusses of the first volume give way to white arced beams, like those in this circulation space by the museum shop.

  • The bridge between the two volumes is an early 20th century German railcar like those used to transport Jews to concentration camps during World War II. Visitors first see the car as they approach the Deportation space a round room at the base of the Room of Remembrance cylinder where they watch videos of the transportation process. After exiting Deportation they can choose to enter the car before moving into the North Gallery in the lighter building volume.

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    The bridge between the two volumes is an early 20th century German railcar like those used to transport Jews to concentration camps during World War II. Visitors first see the car as they approach the Deportation space a round room at the base of the Room of Remembrance cylinder where they watch videos of the transportation process. After exiting Deportation they can choose to enter the car before moving into the North Gallery in the lighter building volume.

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    William Zbaren

    The bridge between the two volumes is an early 20th century German railcar, like those used to transport Jews to concentration camps during World War II. Visitors first see the car as they approach the Deportation space, a round room at the base of the Room of Remembrance cylinder, where they watch videos of the transportation process. After exiting Deportation, they can choose to enter the car before moving into the North Gallery in the lighter building volume.

  • A catwalk above the desk leads to the Listening Space a perfect cube where visitors see presentations about the Holocaust and the exhibits they are about to enter.

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    A catwalk above the desk leads to the Listening Space a perfect cube where visitors see presentations about the Holocaust and the exhibits they are about to enter.

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    Copyright 2010 David Seide/DefinedSpace.com

    A catwalk above the desk leads to the Listening Space, a perfect cube, where visitors see presentations about the Holocaust and the exhibits they are about to enter.

  • The museum also encourages community members to do their own research offering resources such as a reading room.

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    The museum also encourages community members to do their own research offering resources such as a reading room.

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    Copyright 2010 David Seide/DefinedSpace.com

    The museum also encourages community members to do their own research, offering resources such as a reading room.

  • A catwalk leads from the Room of Remembrance to the Hall of Reflection another roughly cylindrical volume in the lighter wing that offers visitors a chance to reflect on all they have seen. The catwalk is suspended above the North Gallery and sits just under a maze of exposed ductwork. The design intent was to create a building that was raw and transparent in its functions.

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    A catwalk leads from the Room of Remembrance to the Hall of Reflection another roughly cylindrical volume in the lighter wing that offers visitors a chance to reflect on all they have seen. The catwalk is suspended above the North Gallery and sits just under a maze of exposed ductwork. The design intent was to create a building that was raw and transparent in its functions.

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    Copyright 2010 David Seide/DefinedSpace.com

    A catwalk leads from the Room of Remembrance to the Hall of Reflection, another roughly cylindrical volume in the lighter wing that offers visitors a chance to reflect on all they have seen. The catwalk is suspended above the North Gallery and sits just under a maze of exposed ductwork. The design intent was to create a building that was raw and transparent in its functions.

  • The Hall of Reflection is intentionally one of the lightest spaces in the building representing the hope that comes out of learning from the experiences of those who suffered through the Holocaust. Skylights admit natural light into the space and a glass block wall square windows and glass floor tiles ensure that every surface is in some way glazed.

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    The Hall of Reflection is intentionally one of the lightest spaces in the building representing the hope that comes out of learning from the experiences of those who suffered through the Holocaust. Skylights admit natural light into the space and a glass block wall square windows and glass floor tiles ensure that every surface is in some way glazed.

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    William Zbaren

    The Hall of Reflection is, intentionally, one of the lightest spaces in the building, representing the hope that comes out of learning from the experiences of those who suffered through the Holocaust. Skylights admit natural light into the space, and a glass block wall, square windows, and glass floor tiles ensure that every surface is in some way glazed.

  • Inside the Hall of Reflection ceramic tile covers the floor and the 12 benches that represent the 12 tribes of Israel. Acoustic material lines the gray wall diffusing sound in a room otherwise composed of hard and potentially reverberant surfaces.

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    Inside the Hall of Reflection ceramic tile covers the floor and the 12 benches that represent the 12 tribes of Israel. Acoustic material lines the gray wall diffusing sound in a room otherwise composed of hard and potentially reverberant surfaces.

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    William Zbaren

    Inside the Hall of Reflection, ceramic tile covers the floor and the 12 benches that represent the 12 tribes of Israel. Acoustic material lines the gray wall, diffusing sound in a room otherwise composed of hard and potentially reverberant surfaces.

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    Courtesy Tigerman McCurry Architects

Sitting in the reading room of the Illinois Holocaust Museum & Education Center, Chicago architect Stanley Tigerman recalls applying to architecture school in 1958. One of the questions asked by Columbia (which the eventual Yalie did not attend) was, “Would you design a concentration camp?” He tells the story while leafing through a rare book from the museum’s collection, which documents the correspondence and working drawings that produced the gas chambers of Auschwitz. “Somebody had to design the things,” says Tigerman, before emphatically adding—“the motherf***ers!”

Tigerman has long been known for his use of specifically (and sometimes whimsical) Judaic ideas in his work. He dubbed a 1977 addition to a North Shore house a “Kosher Kitchen for a Jewish American Princess.” But the Illinois Holocaust Museum in Skokie, Ill.—a Chicago suburb that is home to a large number of survivors—is the closest Tigerman has come to building an overtly religious structure based on his interpretation of his Jewish upbringing. He won the commission for the project after his partner (and wife) Margaret McCurry fetched the invitation for the interview from the trash where he had pitched it. “You have to interview for this,” she told him.

Tigerman’s competitors came to the interview with teams of consultants and PowerPoint presentations. He came alone, and with a single napkin sketch that depicted two rectangular structures rotated 5.7 degrees apart. The linear journey through the building—“there’s no going back,” Tigerman says of the path, which leads through exhibits that tell the story of the Holocaust beginning with the oppression of the Jews in Germany and ending with an exploration of post-war Jewish culture—begins with the visitor’s back toward Jerusalem and ends facing due east, representing the anticipation of a messianic age.

Two sites and nine years later, the building that opened is realized almost exactly as presented in the sketch Tigerman did for the interview. Only an early 20th century German boxcar—the museum’s largest artifact—was added to the program. And it fit precisely into the void he drew between the two main volumes.

Tigerman planned the building using the ancient (and biblically cited) measurement of cubits—equal to approximately 18 inches. Since many American construction standards are based on 16-inch modules, there’s a discrepancy between certain elements—such as 18-inch square windows that, with some creative joint work, fit into 16-inch standard modules—due to the difference between the ideal and the practical, an intentional contrast that Tigerman likes to use.

Two ghost-like metal columns establish a symmetrical datum for the two different, but attached, volumes. Their dimensions match the description of Solomon’s Temple in 1 Kings 5–9.

The two distinct volumes are visually opposed through their architectural expression. The entrance and descent into darkness occurs within a dark building with a basilica-type section that’s drawn from typical death camp structures. The ascent to light occurs in a barrel-vaulted white structure that’s rooted in Tigerman’s understanding of the experience in the camps. “White is about hope,” he says—and it started in the death camps. “They made art, they played in orchestras,” Tigerman says. “If you’re alive, there’s always hope.”

Three circular spaces cap the ascent to light. First is a theater that displays films about the continuing efforts against genocide in the period since the Holocaust. Next, the visitor climbs to the second floor and the brightly lit Hall of Reflection—where one can sit on one of 12 cubes, measuring a cubit on each side, that represent the 12 tribes of Israel. Finally, the smaller Room of Remembrance is accessed via a walkway that overlooks the exhibits; it’s located at the hinge between the two buildings.

Tigerman worked on the project for almost a decade, amassing numerous friends within the survivor community. Although these individuals may soon be gone, their bond with the sometimes serious, sometimes irreverent architect is obvious in the project’s outcome. Anyone who spends time with these extraordinary people will be moved by their stories of youthful horror and the amazing lives that followed in its wake.

“It’s about resilience, renewal, and spirit,” says the museum’s executive director, Richard Hirschhaut. The statement applies equally to the building, its patrons, and its architect.