In designing the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, the late architect James Ingo Freed, of Pei Cobb Freed & Partners, visited a number of historical Holocaust sites, including several camps and ghettos, to examine their structures and materials. The Museum he built as a result is not a neutral shell. Instead, the architecture—through a collection of abstract forms both invented and drawn from memory—alludes to the history the Museum addresses.
These allusions are not specific. Freed wanted visitors to experience the Museum building “viscerally,” to make their own interpretations, with the building’s subtle symbols and metaphors serving as vehicles for thought and introspection.
“There are no literal references to particular places or occurrences from the historic event,” he explained. “Instead, the architectural form is open-ended so the Museum becomes a resonator of memory.”
Just as the Holocaust defies understanding, the building is not meant to be understood intellectually. Its architecture of sensibility is intended to engage the visitor and stir emotions. “It must take you in its grip,” Freed said.