The Johannesburg Holocaust & Genocide Centre by Lewis Levin

Holocaust & Genocide Centre Set To Become A Joburg Landmark

Johannesburg is the latest South African city to develop a Holocaust and Genocide Centre. It was conceptualised as a place of remembrance, learning and contemplation of the history of the Holocaust and the Rwandan genocide. 

The project is being funded entirely by charitable donations in association with the City of Johannesburg, which made the prominent site on Jan Smuts Avenue across the road from the Westcliff Hotel available for this purpose. 

Designed by Lewis Levin, the architectural language and aesthetic of the building has clearly been carefully considered. "It is important that this building is humble yet respectful, austere yet contemplative. And it is important that children are able to relate to it," says Levin.

The split-level centre with basement parking for around 50 vehicles comprises two buildings connected by a bridging structure and public areas. The first level includes the foyer, a number of auditorium spaces that will be used for orientation and seminars, an exhibition space that will take visitors through a route from general racism and the South African experience to survivor accounts, a memorial courtyard and an exhibition on the Rwandan genocide as well as an area dedicated to issues we face today such as xenophobia. The second floor houses administration offices, a temporary exhibition space/lecture hall and a resource centre.

At street level, the double-volume foyer is dominated by a wall of glazing, which entices the visitor to enter the building and provides a sense of transparency. Interspersed in the wall of clear glazing are children's drawings reproduced in stained glass. "These extraordinary images were drawn by children in the Theresienstadt Ghetto during the Holocaust. They depict the optimism of childhood amidst the horror of their surroundings," explains Levin. 

The exterior finish is a combination of dry-packed concrete with large exposed rock that is aggregate-clad onto the wall between steel members. The visual effect is striking, evoking wreckage and destruction but also, rather surprisingly, trees in a forest. Levin says the imagery is deliberate: "If you visit the death camps, the fragments of mangled steel that have remained and of forests surrounding the precincts are strong visual associations." The feature also includes a reflection pond and planting along the feature wall.

A muted colour palette has been selected for both the interior and exterior of the building and the mixed material cladding will be continued in the interior spaces.

With over 3000 square metres under roof, including the basement, the design ensures that noise levels from the road are mitigated to provide the necessary peace for contemplation in a building of this nature. Earthworks have begun on the building and construction is due to be completed end of 2011.

To help build the Johannesburg Holocaust & Genocide Centre, either by donating materials, services or money, please contact the project's director Tali Nates at or call 011 640 3100. 

Quantity Surveyor: Hamlyn Gebhardt
Engineer: Peter Erasmus 
Project architect with Lewis Levin: Paul Cawood, Colin Berger

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