21 May 2018 Attractions Management Handbook

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Attractions Management Handbook - Their Past, Your Future


Their Past, Your Future

Commemorative museums are becoming dynamic public spaces where visitors can learn, reflect, engage and aspire to a brighter future. Helen Patenall rounds up a selection of the latest memorial attractions

Helen Patenall, Attractions Management Handbook
Sleuk will offer a public space where visitors can contemplate the genocide photo: © ZAHA HADID
9/11 has been consciously divided into the external plaza and the museum photo: © joe woolhead

“The best memorials are not objects we visit once, contemplate, and file away. The best memorials evoke reflection and commemoration, but are also living, dynamic public places that engage with all generations in the community.”

That’s the ideology behind Sleuk Rith Institute in Phnom Penh. Although a commemoration of Cambodia’s destruction at the hands of the Khmer Rouge, Sleuk’s founder has conceived a dynamic public space where new generations of Cambodians and international visitors can contemplate the genocide as a pathway to enlightenment, empowering the country to move towards a brighter future whilst promoting Cambodia as a tourist destination.

Similarly, the mindset behind the June 4th Museum in Hong Kong is not solely to commemorate those who died during the 1989 Tienanmen Square protests, but the creation of a politically motivated vehicle aimed at publicly verifying the truth behind the Chinese government’s military crackdown on unarmed civilians. It provides a forum for the protest against China’s role in Hong Kong and the pursuit of democracy.

In a different vein, the conversion of Hitler’s former House of Responsibility in Austria into a heritage centre and the construction of a museum in Predappio in Italy intend both to educate visitors about the reality of Fascism and to rid these towns of their status as the birthplaces of dictators – and consequent attraction for neo-Nazi pilgrimages. Elsewhere in Europe, the Munich Documentation Center has been established not only as a place for reflection on Hitler’s rise to power, but to explore Germany’s predicament in dealing with its past by virtue of research and discussion.

Across the Atlantic, Washington’s impending National Museum of African American History and Culture incorporates two roles: as a traditional facility for documentation of the African American struggle for freedom, and as the only museum in the world exclusively showcasing and celebrating the lives, art and culture of African American people.

In response to more recent tragic events, the 9/11 Memorial Museum ”Demonstrates the consequences of terrorism on individual lives and its impact on communities at the local, national, and international levels, the museum attests to the triumph of human dignity over human depravity and affirms an unwavering commitment to the fundamental value of human life.”

Commemorative museums tread a controversial path – to lay tribute, to document history, and to provide a place where visitors can come to terms with traumatic events. The design and approach of these ‘attractions’ can influence how society deals with tragedies in our interdependent world.

Sleuk Rith Institute

Phnom Penh, Cambodia

Sleuk’s founder, Youk Chhang, explains: “We were keen to create a forward-looking institution that deviates from the distress-invoking, quasi-industrial harshness of most existing genocide memorial models. This is not to criticize or denigrate such models but, instead, to emphasize that in light of Cambodia’s rich cultural and religious traditions, we must move in a different and more positively-oriented direction.”

A human rights activist and a prisoner under the Khmer Rouge regime during his teenage years, Chhang clearly envisions Sleuk Rith as a dynamic public space where new generations of Cambodians and international visitors can contemplate the Khmer Rouge era of genocide and so be enlightened to move the country towards a more positive future.

In recognition of this spirit, Zaha Hadid’s design encompasses five wooden structures that start out separately at ground level, before interweaving as they rise upwards. The structure comprises the actual Institute; a library holding the largest collection of genocide-related material in SE Asia; a graduate school focusing on genocide, conflicts and human rights; a research centre to influence policies; and a media centre and auditorium. Each aspect is independent but interdependently connected.

Sleuk will be encircled by a huge memorial park for the wider community, with sports fields, urban vegetable gardens and fruit orchards. Traditional meadows and a forest will also house contemporary Cambodian sculptures, many commemorating the women that helped to rebuild this incredible country.


Hadid’s inspired design features five separate wooden structures that interweave as each rises upwards
National Museum of African American History and Culture (NMAAHC)

Washington DC, USA
OPENing 2016

Documenting the American experience from colonial times to the present day, NMAAHC aims to “stimulate a dialogue about race and help foster a spirit of reconciliation and healing”, while showcasing how the struggle of African Americans has impacted freedom struggles around the world.

Established as a Smithsonian museum by an Act of Congress in 2003, it’s the only national museum worldwide devoted exclusively to the documentation of African American life, art, history and culture, explored via exhibits and public programmes about social, political, cultural, scientific and military history.

It will feature a 350-seat theatre named after tv host Oprah Winfrey, who donated US$13m (£8.6m, e12m) towards the US$500m (£329m, e456m) build.

-More than a decade in the making as a collaborative effort by Freelon Group, Adjaye Associates, Davis Brody Bond and SmithGroup, the design features a tripartite column with a bronze crown to reflect the African American presence as a permanent component of the USA.


NMAAHC will showcase how the struggle of African Americans has impacted freedom struggles around the world

NMAAHC will showcase how the struggle of African Americans has impacted freedom struggles around the world
House of Responsibility

Braunau am Inn, Austria

A long-running debate about what to do with the birthplace of Adolf Hitler looks to be settled, with Austrian authorities poised to turn the controversial property in the city of Braunau am Inn into a House of Responsibility museum.

It is proposed that the now empty €2.2m (£1.7m, US$2.4m) townhouse where Hitler was born in 1889 – and which later became a pub used as a ‘cultural centre’ for the Nazi party during the Third Reich – will be turned into a heritage house museum.

Hitler’s crimes against humanity will be chronicled on the 1st floor, while the 2nd floor will concentrate on the present time, and the 3rd floor will focus on the future.
It is hoped that the museum will also serve as a symbol against Nazism by stemming the tide of neo-Nazis who currently visit the site to pay homage to the deceased dictator on his birth date. In an effort to prevent the property from being inhabited by neo-Nazis, the Austrian government is endorsing the renovation proposals.


House of Responsibility
Mussolini Museum

Predappio, Italy

The mayor of Predappio is overseeing a proposed museum dedicated to the history of fascism, located in the town where Mussolini was born.

Mayor Frassineti said the museum would give visitors the chance to reflect on an important part of history while reclaiming the town of Predappio from modern-day supporters of the fascist dictator – who still embark on pilgrimages to the town to see the house in which Mussolini was born, as well as the mausoleum where he’s buried.
The dictator – known as Il Duce – founded Italy’s National Fascist Party in 1921, before coming into power and ultimately leading the country into World War Two on the side of Nazi Germany. He was captured and shot dead by Italian partisans while fleeing Italy in 1945.

The museum will be located in an abandoned 2,400sq m (25,833sq ft) building constructed as part of an urban renewal programme in the 1930s in an attempt by Mussolini to glorify his home town.

Mayor Frassineti, a member of the centre-left Democratic Party, said the project requires additional funding if it is to get off the ground.


photo: © shutterstock.com/SERGIOboccardo

The museum will document Fascism
Munich Documentation Centre for the History of National Socialism

Munich, Germany
OPENED 31st April 2015

Described as a place of historical and political learning for the future, NS-Dokumentationszentrum München opened its doors to the public this Spring, marking the 70th anniversary of the liberation of Munich from Nazi rule.

Located on the site of the former Nazi headquarters (dubbed the Brown House), the museum explores the history of the National Socialism movement, reflects on the city’s role in Hitler’s rise to power, and explores the difficulties that Germany has faced in dealing with its Nazi past.

“Munich had a harder time with this than all the other cities in Germany because it is also more tainted than any other city,” said museum director Winfried Nerdinger. “This is where it all began.”

More than 250,000 visitors per year, mostly school children, are projected.

Research stations and a library demonstrate the focus on learning, accompanied by changing exhibits, lectures and panel discussions.

According to the museum’s website: “It is for society as a whole to show future generations that democracy and tolerance cannot be taken for granted, but have to be constantly secured and shaped anew.

“Pro-active commemoration involves a critical approach to and a frank discussion of the history of National Socialism, and includes a look at the teaching of human and civic rights in a way that is relevant to the present and the future.”


The exhibition’s design prioritises both learning and understanding
June 4th Museum

Hong Kong
OPENED 26 April 2014

The student-led anti-Government demonstrations in China – which culminated in significant media coverage of unarmed civilians being targeted by state-troop rifle fire in Beijing’s Tienanmen Square – have at long last been commemorated with the opening of the June 4th Museum in Hong Kong’s popular Tsim Sha Tsui tourist district.

When millions of civilians gathered to protest against the lack of freedom of speech, the Chinese government enforced martial law which resulted in up to 1,000 deaths. This violent suppression was met with international condemnation, arms embargoes and economic sanctions. The Chinese government has prohibited all forms of discussion since the event.

However, residents of Hong Kong have not been prevented from voicing their opinions. Annually on June 4th, a candlelit vigil is held in protest against China.

The Alliance in Support of Patriotic Democratic Movements of China, which funds the vigil, also founded the new June 4th Museum, which aims “to preserve history, to impart truths, to awaken our collective conscience, to vindicate the movement, and to spark reflections on the future of democracy in China.

“The memorial is a testimony to the Alliance’s resolve to achieve its five goals: release of the dissidents, rehabilitation of the June Fourth movement, accountability for the massacre, an end to one-party dictatorship, and a democratic China.”

Media images and audio visual footage explaining the historical developments are displayed alongside a replica statue of the Goddess of Democracy (originally erected at Tienanmen Square by the protesters) within a maze-like museum that “seeks to combine commemoration, education, reflection and participation”. This museum may be small-scale, but its message is powerful.


The museum has a replica Goddess of Democracy (erected at Tienanmen Square by the protesters)
9/11 Memorial Museum

New York City, NY, USA
OPENED 21 may 2014

Designed by David Brody Bond Architects in conjunction with Snøhetta, the emotive 9/11 Memorial Museum provides a space where the events of the 2001 attacks and their repercussions are sensitively told.

“All museums that document events defined by unimaginable personal loss and collective trauma face challenges during the planning stage – the 9/11 museum was no exception,” explains the museum’s director, Alice Greenwald.

“The work to create the museum took place within the context of intense public scrutiny, divergent expectations of what would be appropriate to present at such an emotionally charged site and the daunting responsibility of constructing a narrative that would codify a history not yet written.”

The US$700m (£460m, €638m) facility has been consciously divided into two aspects: the external plaza and the museum. The Memorial Plaza features two inverse fountains, where once stood the Twin Towers, surrounded by a public park. A place of contemplation. The museum sits on the very foundations of the World Trade Center (WTC) complex and is divided into three aspects, which combined unfold the events and the aftermath. ‘Events of the day’ displays artefacts, images, audio recordings and first-person testimonies, after which visitors are led to a series of galleries in ‘Before 9/11’, where the evolution of al-Qaeda and targeting WTC are unfolded. The journey ends with the third section, an exploration of the immediate aftermath of collective grief, global responses and the search for survivors, before considering 9/11’s place in history.

Tom Hennes of Thinc Design conceptualised about 80 per cent of the museum’s exhibitions. Commenting on the most important consideration during the design process, Hennes told Attractions Management (Q1/15): “It’s about maintaining an alive awareness of the meaning of 9/11 and the fact that it isn’t over. The events of 9/11 are a symbol of a larger and much more significant unfolding story. A museum which purely historicises would be out of place here. The museum should enable people to be more engaged in the complex world that’s come out of this event and I think that’s a radically different mission for a museum.”

A well-accomplished radically different mission for a museum... close to two million people have already walked through its doors, exceeding all expectations.


photoS: © SNöNETTA & AMy dreher

Close to two million people have already walked through its doors, exceeding all expectations

photoS: © SNöNETTA & AMy dreher
Memorial Plaza features two inverse fountains, where once stood the Twin Towers, surrounded by a park

Originally published in Attractions Handbook 2015 issue 1

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