Built sombreness: Holocaust memorial in Bologna
A new high-speed railway line has connected Bologna with Milan since 2008; in the following year the connection to Florence was completed. Today those travelling to this university city by long-distance train generally arrive at one of the four new underground platforms. The roof of this underground station is an empty, not particularly attractive place in the city, with no public access. The only exception is at the junction of Via de’Carracci and Via Matteotti, where the engineers of the state railway company created a new public square, located on the roof of the entrance and services building for the new train station.
For a number of months this square had no specific function. In 2015, on the initiative of Bologna's Jewish community, an open international design competition was held for a Holocaust memorial on this site. The winning design by SET Architects relates intelligently to the exposed location and even succeeds in making the horror of the Holocaust physically tangible. Between two broad existing wall slabs that run along the diagonal of the square the architects placed two steles that resemble shelving, each 10 metres high and long, made of Corten steel. Looking between them your gaze meets the tracks of the main train station, which implicitly recall the inglorious role of Europe's railways in the persecution of the Jews in the Second World War. The 1.80 x 1.25 m "shelves" are based on the bunks in the concentration camps. As the shelf floors and the vertical walls project slightly beyond the ends and backs of the steles, the shelf structure can be read from outside. The 8 mm thick steel plates were welded together while resting on the ground, then each of the two large steel elements was tilted, in a single piece, into the vertical.
The impression made by the Holocaust memorial at night is no less haunting than during the day. Spots embedded in the ground illuminate the grid structure of the steel shelving from below, while the inside of the "bunks" vanishes in the darkness.