Words William Wiles
The concentration camp at Bergen-Belsen used to occupy what is now a clear patch of ground in a forest in Saxony, north-west Germany. A documentation centre by German practice KSP Engel and Zimmermann has been built on the site, but it deliberately doesn’t touch the ground where 50,000 people lost their lives. British forces liberated Belsen in April 1945 and then burned its buildings to the ground. The cleared site, a mass grave, is now a memorial to the camp’s victims, who included the young diarist Anne Frank.
The two-storey centre is 200m long and only 18m wide, and follows the route of an old path between two nearby villages. At its far end, a cantilevered section extends over the boundary of the camp.
“We didn’t want to touch the site,” says KSP architect Anke Wünschmann. “We wanted to be a part of it without actually touching it.” The slender, bare concrete building is a strikingly sensitive gesture, drawing attention to the importance of the site without making an explicit statement about it.
There are two routes through the building: one enters the exhibition spaces and leads through to the elevated observation area; the other runs alongside the building directly to the site, exposed to the air but flanked by an outer concrete wall. “You should not be forced to go inside to see the exhibition,” says Wünschmann.
images Simon Kramer