During World War II, a total of 25,267 Jews and gypsies were rounded up in the Dossin Barracks in Mechelen, Belgium, from where they were deported to concentration camps in Germany and Poland. On this historically significant site, across from the renovated, eighteenth century barracks, awg architecten built a new museum. The Dossin Barracks: a Museum, Memorial and Documentation Centre for Holocaust and Human Rights.
The museum is built on the site of the former detention facility, shaped by a courtyard wall. A wall with a building partially inside it and partially on top of it. The wall itself is an extension of the deportation centre’s original, exterior wall - that lay in ruins - and extends along the remains of Mechelen’s ancient city wall. A paved square between the barracks and the museum’s courtyard wall connects the two buildings and creates a recognizable, community space in the city.
The ground floor of the museum does not interact with the city. There is no easily conspicuous entrance hall, not aligned with the center of the square, but set off to one side, almost a secondary entrance, a sliding gate: a rail car’s welcome.
First and foremost, the new building desires to be a bare frame, free to be filled in by the scenography. The main body of the building is exhibition space, while its triangular tip is devoted to other aspects of the museum’s program. These volumes are separated by a staircase and an elevator.
Two levels, the ground floor and the top floor, enjoy natural light; the three intermediate levels are blind -- bricked up with a total of 25,267 bricks that bear witness to absence. After leaving the large, bright, ground floor, one is given over to the exhibit. The encounter is a meeting with history. Upon reaching the top floor one can circulate three quarters of the way around the building outside to observe the barracks and the city.
At the origin of this project lies an emotional reference that informs the entire design and building process. The building’s character is a secret hiding place for private significance concealed within it. This significance does not dictate that the project be narrative, legible or loud. This truly private significance is embedded in the building’s realisation. The building is willing to be a museum. It moderates the scenography, it is not scenography. The museum asks for confrontation, not indifference. It is about "intense absence".
Program: "Memorial, museum and documentation centre about the Holocaust and human rights. New museum building, renovation of barracks, rezoning, interior design for museum"
Client: Flemish Government - Departement of General Government Policy, Communications
Contractors: CEI-Demeyer (New Construction and Renovation); Hertsens Wegenwerken nv. (Zoning); Potteau Labo nv. (Interior Design Museum)
Competition November 2007
Design Service April 2008
Building Opening December 2012
Built Surface 7743 m2
Building Height 29.5 m
Cubature 34298 m3
Floor nr 5
Building cost 11517614.00 €