Gabu Heindl and Eduard Freudmann shift conceptions of how a memorial should appear, function, and grow with time.
Published in A10 #65 Nov/Dec 2015
Situated within the former Warsaw Ghetto, nearby the POLIN Museum of the History of Polish Jews, architect Gabu Heindl and artist Eduard Freudmann have envisioned a memorial to Polish citizens who saved Jewish lives during World War II. With their design of a living, growing, and constantly changing forest, the Viennese duo may well completely change our current conception of what a memorial is. Robert Musil, a fellow Austrian, once said, ‘There is nothing in the world which is as invisible as a memorial.’ This statement seems to echo the view of Heindl and Freudmann. Their proposal, ‘Der Wald’ (The Forest), must be well maintained and looked after in order to keep the memories from fading away. The design of the memorial, entitled ‘From Those You Saved’, was decided in a two-stage international competition. An initiative by Holocaust survivors, it was financed by the Remembrance and Future Foundation. The jury was won over by the concept behind the forest, which advanced to the second stage along with four other entries. As the competition proceeded, however, Heindl and Freudmann became aware of the controversy the proposed memorial was causing in Poland. Many people were against the building of such a memorial at this particular place, as it is not connected with Polish men and women who saved Jews, but rather representative of the suffering of Polish Jews held in the Ghetto. This led Heindl and Freudmann to propose a multipart building process. Their first intention was to construct a tree nursery, in which the trees for the forest would be cultivated within a designated area before being planted elsewhere. At the same time, the designers wanted to encourage a dialogue with the district’s inhabitants, during which the exact location and expansion of the forest would be discussed. Fully aware that such a process could entail the cancellation of the building plans, the authors renamed their piece ‘The Monument is a Dilemma, The Monument is a Forest Nursery, The Monument is a Process, the Monument May be a Failure, the Monument May be a Forest’. This proposal sealed their victory in the competition’s second stage, which in turn generated considerable national and international media attention. Meanwhile, however, there has been a surprising turn of events. At the end of July, the Remembrance and Future Foundation announced that it does not intend to erect the winning design. In an official statement, the foundation announced that it is not in a position to finance the management costs of the memorial, for which reason they have had to drop the project. Despite this, the memorial’s powerful design has surely left an impression on many. It suggested an innovative alternative to the memorial design canon – something which perhaps may be brought to life somewhere else.