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A Narrative Walk Through the New Dallas Holocaust and Human Rights Museum

The Narrative

Much is expected of the exhibits and galleries of a building meant to convey the horrors of the Holocaust, the justice of the Nuremberg Trials, the hope for humanity encapsulated in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the International Genocide Convention, and the exceptional nature of American ideals, reality, and repair. These are precisely the expectations held for the new Dallas Holocaust and Human Rights Museum as it helps fulfill the Museum’s mission to teach the history of the Holocaust and advance human rights to combat prejudice, hatred, and indifference.

The new Museum will deal with difficult, thought-provoking, crucial, and heart-wrenching moments in history. As the generation of Holocaust survivors dwindles, our mission is important now more than ever. This building will convey our mission, create a space for learning and exploration, and allow for reflection so visitors may fully comprehend the gravity of the information they have just taken in. The museum aims to transform the life of every visitor.

The 50,000 square foot building’s design is deliberate in the way that it leads visitors through the journey--a carefully choreographed sequence of spaces intended to remove the visitor from distractions so that the focus is solely on the exhibits.

The Museum's Courtyard is accessible--a part of the city, and, yet, a microcosm of its own: the visitor is aware of the Museum's messaging and education but is apart from it; the courtyard offers solace where visitors can collect their thoughts in anticipation of the journey. Floor to ceiling windows in the lobby provides a clear view of the courtyard allowing the transition to be seamless.

The lobby is a transitional space from the street, filled with natural light. The visitor is aware of the city but removed from its distractions. Here, the visitor may also enter the Special Exhibit Gallery, a flexible space that will host a variety of rotating special exhibits. Tall artifacts, floor or wall, mounted – or even suspended from the ceiling – will be housed in this dramatic room.

From the lobby, the Orientation Wing becomes the departure point to the journey through the exhibition rooms in the building.

The Holocaust/Shoah Wing is the first major exhibition space the visitor will experience. It encourages the visitor to focus on the history and inhumanity that were the horrors of the Holocaust and answers the question, how did this happen?

The Human Rights and Genocide Wing which includes the Human Rights Gallery and The Genocide Gallery, follows the Shoah section and demonstrates the efforts of humankind to learn the lessons of the Holocaust and to ensure that ‘never again’ is a true statement.

The Genocide Gallery which shows that these efforts are still a work-in-progress, as the 10 Stages of Genocide are illustrated through major art installations.
The last exhibition is the “Pivot to America Wing” which includes “American Ideals, American Realities, and the American Repair Gallery.” American Ideals, Reality, and Repair engages visitors with documents foundational to our nation and then explores the reality of life in America. This reality is tempered by efforts at repair undertaken by Americans as part of our democratic system, as envisioned by the founders. The visitor advances to the “call to action,” to embrace ideals, challenge reality, and participate in ongoing repair. The Museum provides the channels to take the first steps to become involved on a local or national level.

The journey culminates in the Reflection and Memorial Room that provides visitors with a serene space in which to reflect on Hope, Rebirth, and Faith, and to memorialize those who died during the Holocaust.

The Architecture
The architecture of the Dallas Holocaust and Human Rights Museum communicates the notion of the journey through the building and the exhibits. It is a dynamic structure, expressive of the physical and emotional experience, and movement from arrival to departure, with milestones along the way. Structurally, the building ensures an intuitive path for visitors so that the focus is on the experience, without distractions. The architecture is assertive and inviting. It is meant to fit in and to become a landmark in Dallas’ historic West End district.

The Context
The placement of the building on its site responds to a series of considerations: it creates a vibrant open urban space for the neighborhood, it allows for sunlight to reach the Museum. It is compatible with its neighbors--the tourist attractions nearby: the Sixth Floor Museum, Dealey Plaza, and the Old Red Court House. At the same time, the design complies with the City of Dallas and West End Historic District requirements. The building height, setbacks, materiality, lot coverage, parking counts, loading and trash collection zones are satisfactorily met and will not require variances or adjustments to the current zoning.

The Materials
With its exterior of copper cladding, which will acquire a natural patina over time, the Dallas Holocaust and Human Rights Museum will comply with the historic district requirements of masonry and metal façades.