• Thinking the Future of Auschwitz
    Southern California Institute of Architecture, Los Angeles
    Nov 03, 2014 to Dec 05, 2014
    Eric A. Kahn & Russell N. Thomsen

View of Thinking the Future of Auschwitz, SCI-Arc Library Gallery, 2014, Los Angeles, CA. Photo: Benny Chan.

Thinking the Future of Auschwitz is an architectural proposal for the future of the Nazi concentration camps in Poland. While the original concentration camp and Polish State Museum at Auschwitz maintain their status as a narrated, didactic experience, this proposal transforms the extermination camp at Auschwitz-Birkenau into a Tel Olam. Originally cited in Deuteronomy, a Tel Olam marks a place of unspeakable evil, blotting out and rendering a place inaccessible. Translated as a perpetual heap—in contemporary terms, a machinic field—it produces an indeterminate traumatic figure, steadfastly delimiting a perimeter. Proper to its unutterable status, Birkenau becomes perpetually indeterminate, generating a probing, hermeneutic experience without immediate answers, withholding solace and defying (convenient) philosophical closure. While the project is unique to Auschwitz, it tests architecture's own particular agency in the twenty-first century and contributes significantly to an expanded discourse on the conventions of catastrophe.

Eric A. Kahn (1956–2014) and Russell N. Thomsen are licensed architects and partners in IDEA Office. Founded in 1987 in Los Angeles, the Office works on a wide array of projects that include building, installations, writing, and speculative architectural proposals on the relationship between architecture and culture. In addition to their architectural practice, both are full-time design studio faculty at the Southern California Institute of Architecture (SCI-Arc), where they have taught for over twenty years. Additional teaching includes chairships at the University of Michigan and the University of California, Berkeley, as well as visiting professorships at the Royal Danish Academy of Art. The work of IDEA has been recognized and published internationally and is part of the permanent collection of the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, as well as private collections. The partners are recipients of the Young Architects Award and the Emerging Voices Award, both sponsored by the Architectural League of New York.