'Perhaps in his pursuit of silence, as opposed to the polemics and pyrotechnics of his other buildings, Peter Eisenman has at last made a real contribution to the art of architecture, ' wrote Peter Davey of the Holocaust Memorial Berlin in The Architectural Review (July 2005).
On a recent sunny Saturday it was a source of multiple and conflicting impressions. From some angles, with the autumn trees of the Tiergarten a colourful backdrop, the memorial seemed surprisingly benign: a reading reinforced by the fact that children find it a perfect place for hide-and-seek, so it becomes a giant playground. Another strong impression is that a Minimalist artist has really struck lucky with site and budget; its grid of 2,400 dark-grey concrete blocks could just be a huge sculptural installation. But you can't help thinking also of a cemetery: the blocks at the edge of the memorial look much like chest tombs and some are slightly angled, as if settling into the earth as old tombs do.
Then, as you walk towards the centre, the ground dips and undulates and the blocks rise in height, like an interrupted wall lowering over the narrow alleys. The concrete is both smooth and sharp: the surfaces inviting your touch, the edges ready to draw blood. Though the memorial is not a labyrinth (its many axes run uninterrupted), the Tiergarten foliage can seem far away.
This ambiguous monument, whose 'meaning' is only anchored (if then) by the exhibits in the information centre below, is now the subject of a beautifully produced book - Holocaust Memorial Berlin (Lars Muller, £27.50). The concrete blocks are tailor-made for Hélène Binet's black-and-white photography, while colour images, all inhabited, give a sense of the varied response to this resonant work.
An exhibition by Ori Gersht at London's Photographers' Gallery from 2 December explores similar terrain to Eisenman, in images made deep in a Ukrainian forest which saw horrors in the Second World War, but the accompanying show by David Spero is very different in tone, featuring 'low-environmental-impact settlements' throughout Britain (www. photonet. org. uk).
For forthcoming events visit www. ajplus. co. uk/diary