Illinois Holocaust Museum & Education Center

Illinois Holocaust Museum

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.

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.

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 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.

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.

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.

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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