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"Aktion T4" Memorial

Memorial and information centre for the victims of the nazi "euthanasia" programme // Berlin, DE // Competition November 2012

The brief of the competition was to create a place of contemplation and information about the Nazi program of forced sterilization and murder of the elderly and handicapped at the historical location of its central planning, Tiergarten Strasse 4 in Berlin.

The violence that emanated from this site around 1940, was as invisible then as it is now, hidden behind a richly ornamented facade of a bourgeois villa. It was a violence hidden in files, reports, and assessments, in the motives and actions of the co-ordinating staff. It was cloaked within the harmless neutrality of administrative language and procedures.

T4 is the name of a place and a policy which led to the deaths of thousands of people all over Europe, and whose implementation was coordinated from this place. The deviation of these citizens from a postulated standard was declared a fatal weakness. A line of argument was put forward classifying these men, women and children as nothing more than a burden to society, whose protection and care was nothing but an expense so unreasonable, it could justify their extermination. T4 is an address, but there is nothing there. This address can no longer remain anonymous but must be made visible and connected to the crimes exercised here.

From Tiergartenstrasse an inclined path of white asphalt runs through a meadow across the property to the location of the absent villa which was destroyed in the war. On one side of this path runs a bronze handrail, incorporating information boards. Here the narrative describing the history of the property and related biographies is played out.

QR codes on these panels allow access to to in-depth information about the euthanasia crimes and the historical dimension of the associated thoinking behind them, as well as current discussions connected to this subject.

The northern portion of the historic footprint of the villa is reinterpreted in an abstracted form as a sunken square, whose enclosure creates an introspective space embodying the idea of the absent interior. At the location of the former villa’s entrance lobby, the bronze memorial plaque of 1989 is embedded in the ground. Out of the invisible foundations of the villa grow eight Linden, Hornbeam and Oak trees, clustered together to form an irregular grove.

These trees are strikingly unusual. Their form is irregular, twisted, diagonal – outside the norm. They do not conform to the benchmarks of standardised nursery stock – they are usually not sold because of their “deviant” properties. This gives these plants a particular, highly ambivalent cultural value. At the same time, their special form will make them particularly appreciated as they mature. It is their individuality and aesthetic particularity which gives them their dignity. The branches of these trees need support. The bronze props stabilise them as they grow. They emphasize their uniqueness, and also amplify it.

The trees can tell stories. Within the sound of the leaves are the stories of the victims. Whispered testimony. They tell life stories, whose destiny is administratively intertwined with this place. In addition there are quotations from the files, diagnoses, appraisals, assessments. In addition, testimony is also etched into the props themselves. Each of the props incorporates a seat for a single person, at least 3 per tree. Listening and interpreting is understood as a collective rather than solitary act.

Bronze is used as a noble, haptic material throughout the scheme – for the handrail, the props, the seats, the housings of loudspeakers – all the elements which support the visitor in their engagment with the place. As well as ageing with patina in parallel with the growing trees, it establishes a link between the trees, the facade of the Philharmonie and the memorial plaque.

An important aspect is that the choice of trees and their integration requires particular maintenance. The bronze props need to be regularly adjusted as the trees grow. An ongoing dialogue is set up between the landscape and its upkeep, which embodies responsibility and a social contract between the city and the place. This gesture of respect is similar to that given to particular trees in the traditional japanese temple garden, for example. On the site of the crimes of T-4 it embodies the idea of the protected support of the “Other“, which above all speaks of the sensitive adaptability of society to that which does not conform.

Client: Land Berlin, Senate Department of Cultural Affairs // Collaborators: relais landschaftsarchitekten (Landscape Architect); Esther Shalev-Gerz (Artist) // Area: 1 050 m² // Budget: 500 000,00 € // Services: Preliminary Design