Babyn Yar, Kiev, Ukraine

Babyn Yar Holocaust Memorial Center Competition

Location: Kiev, Ukraine

Client: Babyn Yar Holocaust Memorial Center Foundation

Architect: Dorte Mandrup

Size: 22,000 square meters

Status: completed 2019 (2nd prize)

Civic and Institutional

The main mission of the Babyn Yar Holocaust Memorial Center is to respectfully commemorate the victims of the Babyn Yar tragedy and to promote the humanization of mankind through the memory preservation and study of the history of the Holocaust. In December 2018, an international competition was held for a global scale design solution that would allow for the creation of a next-generation memorial. MSP joined with Dorte Mandrup for a proposal which gained second place. The Babyn Yar ravine site is directly rooted in one of the largest mass murders of the Holocaust in Kyiv. It is adjacent to a Jewish cemetery and monuments which already exist as places of remembrance.

Sensitivity to the existing elements of the cemetery and connections to the adjacent park were treated carefully. The proposal sought to excavate memory, commemorate and reflect on the past while creating a space for the future in which the past does not become prologue. This inspired the theme of a buried landscape re-emerged: where victims and their loved ones are brought to light. The memorial marks both the absence of the thousands of Jews who lost their lives and the presence of those who live to remember and to learn.

To meet the challenge of honoring this tragic event a minimal but forceful gesture was chosen: the creation of a gash within the earth. The slash, or wound, embodied two themes: one a response to the global horror of the Holocaust. The second, a response to the specific history that occurred at Babyn Yar which resulted in a mass grave that was subsequently erased when it was filled with earth. MSP’s proposal unearths the past as the ravine, symbolically, reincarnating memory, referencing the space of extermination, its depth, the sorrow and opens it up to the light where it becomes a contemplative, inspirational and transcendental place.

The memorial concept abstracts the ravine in the landscape. It is stark and minimal in design. As a gash in the earth it stands for a scar at the scale of the world. It permits people to descend into it through the surrounding forest which was allowed to play a pivotal role in the carefully choreographed sequential experience of the memorial. The forest is quiet and deep wherein the symbolical ravine is situated. There, it affords both entry and exit. The forest imbues a mythical quality to the experience and also creates a place of decompression after visiting the memorial. An inseparable bond between the Learning Center, the Memorial and the landscape are formed as the architecture is partially sunken into the ravine.