Amsterdam’s National Memorial of Names

The Meaning and Importance of Scale, and Community Participation, in the Architecture of Commemoration

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Embedding an architectural project in its context exceeds the mere use of materials and spatial devices. Rather, those are simply the tools used to convey a message, and to reflect certain values. Any piece of architecture with an urban, residential location, has the potential to impact the daily lives of citizens. This is especially the case when it comes to a typology concerned with highly personal and sensitive matters, such as the architecture of commemoration. Since the early twentieth century, an increased level of importance has been placed on the experiential qualities offered by commemorative architecture. There has been a willingness to move away from standalone objects, which symbolise or represent past events or memories, and do not, in principle, possess spatial characteristics.

The term memorial has gradually come to replace the term monument. As with monuments, memorials can still be single objects of various sizes, placed in specific configurations. In essence, the terminology shift refers to the need for individuals to be liberated from the role of the mere observer, to the active participant. Consequently, the concept of integrating a memorial into public space, and the urban fabric of a city, has been on the rise.

This paper aims to explore the role of the National Memorial of Names in the remembrance of Amsterdam’s traumatic past, questioning whether it aids the mourning of the city. It aims to unravel the meaning and importance of community participation in memorial architecture, arguing that, the value of such structures often emerges through the making process itself, and through the way in which it infuses into the city fabric, into neighbourhoods and communities. The paper will address the significance of scale, revealing the way in which it can become a major factor in the rise of controversy surrounding a proposal. The interrelated concepts of public involvement, proportion, and boundaries, will be dealt with. More than with any other typology, commemorative spaces deal with the tension between every-day life and occasion, between the mundane and the spiritual. The text will explore what it means to create site-specific architecture, in terms not only of material and spatial realms, but those related to the people of its context.