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Erratum

letters

On the Emslie Horniman Pleasance (aj 28.1.99) the bid for Heritage Lottery funds was made by David McDonald, conservation and design team leader, Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea with the asssistance of Will Dorman of North Kensington City Challenge. Julia Kypriannou of Kensington and Chelsea's leisure services department subsequently took over the project management role. Cezary Bednarski's name should have been included under the credits for Studio E.

Berlin, from the perspective of a Londoner at any rate, is good at erasing memory. Maybe its fabric has been subject to so many ideological rewritings that to stop at this stage, and allow its chequered past to seep through to the present, is tantamount to being the brave initiator of an urbanistic ceasefire.

A recent and astounding commemoration of the Nazis' ritualised book-burning does do just this. A glass window has been set in the ground at the exact place where the fires burned. Looking down through it you see beyond and below the ground the bare bookshelves of a square white room under the flickering light of fluorescent tubes. Nearby is a quote from Heine inscribed in the pavement to the effect that when you start by burning books you end up burning men. The memory dormant within that place has been simultaneously woken up and yet remains lurking uncomfortably below, forcing each individual to negotiate what it means for themselves.

Not so in Libeskind's museum. There we see the operation of architecture forced to stretch its empathetic possibilities. There is nothing to reveal here: all must be conjured up. This most thoughtful and articulate of architects has succeeded in making a building where the meaning is inescapably experienced, unmediated by intellect, directly, through the body itself. The commemorative space of the holocaust is reached through a series of rooms where the floor slopes inexorably further and further upwards. The door closes behind you and the temperature drops 20 degrees. It literally and unavoidably gives you the shivers. The cast concrete walls narrow to a point: five storeys above you a tiny dim amount of daylight enters to one side. Holes in the walls allow the shouts of children playing and the roar of traffic outside to echo uncannily loudly.

No explanation, no hope, no redemption, is offered. It is simply there. But, as in the experience of psychoanalysis, this remaking of the reality of the past in the here and now is cathartic.

Libeskind has given an incalcuable gift to the people of Berlin. In its monumental recognition of that dark time, it is now possible to remember and move on: to know that it is over, and to love this great and suffering city as it is today.

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