Presenting the Extremely Difficult Past: Günther Domenig’s Documentation Center of the National Socialist Party Rally Grounds, Nuremberg, Germany
Buildings have a way of bringing the past into the present. This is important because experiences of the past often constitute impactful moments in everyday lives and allow a contemplation of existential meaning. It is an aspect often neglected by architectural professionals and critics because it lies outside the Vitruvian triad of aesthetic, functional, and structural virtues. It goes without saying that a building’s presentation of the past is ontological. In other words, individual perceptions of a building are subjective, and the building’s objective traits or histories do not guarantee that it will turn into a place of memory for everybody. The question then is: How can architectural design assist in making the past present in meaningful ways when applied to pre-existing buildings that carry particularly notable and troubling pasts? In order to address this question, I will investigate the Documentation Center Nazi Party Rally Grounds, in Nuremberg, Germany, designed by the Austrian architect Günther Domenig, who thrust a stake of steel and glass diagonally through the block. I will first provide a brief historical background, including why Nuremberg became the Party Rally location and how postwar memory culture and politics had evolved in Germany in general and in Nuremberg in particular. I will then present an analysis of Domenig’s design, through on-site investigation and archival study at the Architecture Center, Vienna, which now houses materials from Domenig’s office. In organizing this section, I will apply the framework concerning how a piece of architecture brings the past into the present – by designation, formal characteristics, physical traces, and memento.
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