An aerial view of the National Holocaust Monument in Ottawa. Image © Doublespace

Until 2017, Canada was the only World War II allied nation without a Holocaust monument in its capital. That all changed with the completion of the National Holocaust Monument in Ottawa, designed by the world’s leading expert in the design of contemporary Holocaust memorials and museums, Daniel Libeskind.

Of Polish origin and Jewish faith, Libeskind’s affinity for the design of Holocaust and Jewish museums is evident in his body of work. Known best for his designs for the Jewish Museum Berlin (2001), and subsequently the Danish Jewish Museum in Copenhagen (2001), Contemporary Jewish Museum in San Francisco (2008), and the forthcoming Dutch Holocaust Memorial in Amsterdam (breaking ground in 2018), Libeskind and his team have mastered the art of designing highly emotive and immersive experiences that provide meaningful education and moments of solace while tackling complex, highly charged, and challenging subjects. The National Holocaust Monument in Ottawa, the latest in the series, is no different.

The National Holocaust Monument in Ottawa. Image © Doublespace

Located in central Ottawa at the corner of Booth and Wellington Streets across from the Canadian War Museum, the 0.8 acre site is adjacent to the historic centre of Canada’s capital city. Designed to enhance the visual connection between the War Museum and Canadian Parliament, the monument rises only three stories above ground, maintaining a low, yet striking profile that can be seen from the St. Lawrence River, downtown Ottawa, and nearby Gatineau, Quebec.

The monument rises only three stories above ground, maintaining a low, but striking profile. Image © Doublespace

Visitors enter through a ramp descending into the memorial’s inner core. Image © Doublespace

The monument plan shows its six distinct spaces joined by a center court.  Image © Studio Libeskind

Formed of raw concrete cast-in-place in the shape of an elongated Star of David, the monument is comprised of six triangular volumes joined by a large open space, forming a series of large and intimate contemplative spaces. Symbolic of Holocaust imagery, the star-shaped motif pays tribute to Jews forced by Nazis to wear a star on their sleeve, while the triangular spaces are representative of the badges Nazis used to label homosexual and transgender people, Roma-Sinti, Jehovah’s Witnesses, and political and religious prisoners.

The monument as seen from street level. Image © Doublespace

The monument is organized into two planes differentiated by meaning: the ascending plane is symbolic of the future, while the descending plane leads visitors to interior spaces dedicated to contemplation and memory. Once inside, visitors encounter six triangular concrete forms which are each assigned a specific role: the interpretation space to explores the Canadian history of the Holocaust; three individual contemplation spaces offer room for reflection; a large central gathering and orientation space; and a towering “sky void” that features an eternal flame of remembrance, a 14 meter-high form that encloses the visitor in a cathedral-like space, framing the sky above.

Interior spaces are soaring and bright, with smaller spaces created for contemplation, as the central stairway reaches skyward. Image © Doublespace

Inside, photographs of concentration camps emblazon the walls in tribute to those who died during the Holocaust. Image © Doublespace

Photographs of concentration camps emblazon the walls in tribute. Image © Doublespace

As symbolic as it is beautiful, the design of the monument was realized through a meticulous and meaningful process with the help of a team of leading Holocaust and cultural experts. Studio Libeskind engaged Lord Cultural Resources for programming alongside renowned Holocaust scholar Doris Bergen; landscape architect Claude Cormier; and photographer Edward Burtynsky, whose images of concentration camps are emblazoned in great detail across the monument’s immense concrete walls as a tribute to the millions who died during the Holocaust.

The contemplative spaces are intimate in nature and immense in scale. Image © Doublespace

The “sky void” encourages visitors to look up as they reflect inside the intimate space. Image © Doublespace

“This monument not only creates a very important public space for the remembrance of those who were murdered in the Holocaust, but it also serves as a constant reminder that today’s world is threatened by anti-Semitism, racism and bigotry,” said Libeskind. “Canada has upheld the fundamental democratic values of people regardless of race, class or creed, and this national monument is the expression of those principles and of the future.”

Canada’s Parliament can be seen through the opening at the top of the central staircase. Image © Doublespace

A powerful yet simple architectural gesture, the monument is a tremendous example of Libeskind’s work, wherein emotion intersects beautifully with material and function. The monument shows, on a small scale, the evolution of Libeskind’s design methodology for Jewish and Holocaust memorials and museums while showcasing his signature geometric architectural style. Now open to the public, the monument provides a much needed home in Canada for the memory of those lost during the Holocaust. Designed with empathy and an intuitive understanding of its own emotional gravity, the monument is certain to resonate with visitors for years to come.

The National Holocaust Memorial at night. Image © Doublespace

The National Holocaust Memorial at night. Image © Doublespace

Canada’s Parliament can be seen in the distance, with the St. Lawrence River on left and downtown Ottawa on right. Image © Doublespace

Landscape Architecture 


Finn Macleod