Congratulations to Michael Sackur (Year 9) on coming first in the ‘Architecture, under 14’ category in the 2011 Guardian young arts critics competition.
This is the full text of Michael’s winning entry:
Berlin’s Jewish Museum, designed by Daniel Libeskind, is housed in a building that makes an unforgettable impression. Its location, set among uniform apartments in a residential area of Berlin, makes it seem all the more striking. The structure has many unmistakable features: its twisted zigzag, Star of David-inspired shape, and its scar-resembling slashes for windows, which immediately reminded me of the wound that has been left on history by the Nazi holocaust. The colours used in the building — stark, dark grey — and the various bolts visible on the exterior give it a raw, industrial feel, which even spills out into the museum’s garden.
In the Garden of Exile, olive trees sit atop 49 grey concrete pillars, just out of reach. This theme is appropriate for a museum which focuses partly on the industrialised killing of six million innocent people. Playing on our apprehension of the unknown, visitors take a flight of steps underground in order to enter the main building and emerge in a tangle of tunnels. Emptiness is another recurring theme; a huge void 20 metres tall slices through the building, and in the museum tunnels exhibits are lodged into the walls, making the spaces feel strangely bare. I interpreted this as an attempt by the architect to convey the void that emerged in the Jewish community following the genocide of six million of its members, as well as the hole left in German society after the extermination of its Jewish component.
The most extraordinary structure in the museum, however, is the Holocaust Tower, a great slab of concrete that is neither heated nor cooled, lit only by a tiny shaft of light at the top. It is simple, but its darkness and its surreal, unearthly echo make it a highly appropriate commemoration of the victims of Nazi tyranny and a disturbing experience for all who enter. The architecture plays an important part in a museum shouldering such an appalling burden of history, but Libeskind has designed a radical building which meets the challenge.