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Museum Architecture: From Darkness into Light

The architectural features of the Illinois Holocaust Museum & Education Center affirm its place as both monumental and memorial. Renowned architect Stanley Tigerman created the 65,000-square-foot space which incorporates historical and emotional symbolism as a response to the apocalyptic inhumanity of the Holocaust.

A theme throughout the building is the journey from darkness to light, explicit in the exterior’s starkly divided dark and light wings, and carried out as the visitor travels through the interior. These wings are steeped in both cultural and religious significance:

  • The dark wing faces southeast towards Jerusalem, while the light wing faces due east in anticipation of a Messianic Age.
  • Museum visitors enter on the facility’s dark side, where dark walls and sharp angles represent the descent into darkness and the horrors of the Holocaust.
  • Dark and light sides are connected by a “hinge” that symbolizes the rupture in humanity that occurred during the Holocaust and houses the facility’s anchor artifact, an early 20th-century German rail car of the type used to transport Jews to concentration camps.
  • The light side of the Museum uses soft rounded edges and natural light to emphasize exhibits that represent the rescue and renewal of Holocaust Survivors. The upper level of the building’s light side houses reflective spaces, including the Room of Remembrance and the Hall of Reflection.

Materials and joinery were left exposed in their natural, undecorated state to represent transparency, a response to the deception employed by those responsible for the Holocaust. The two columns at the entrance of the Museum are titled “Jachin” and “Boaz” and are designed to the exact dimensions of the columns of Solomon’s Temple as described in I Kings. Crowning the Museum’s exterior are six points of light, representing the six million Jews who perished.

On January 29, 2013, the Illinois Holocaust Museum and Education Center was awarded LEED Gold Certification established by the U.S. Green Building Council and verified by the Green Building Certification Institute (GBCI) for its facility.

Photo credits: Scott Edwards

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