HMC's design team uses new technology
to convey age-old lessons.
HARRY KIRS BAUM
hen designer Richard
Houghton met with
Rabbi Charles Rosenzveig
to outline the new
Holocaust Memorial Center in
Farmington Hills three years ago, they
planned on creating a 21st-century
museum: technological, conceptual and,
above all, immersive.
Houghton, creative director of
Houghton Kneale Design in London,
England, put together a team that was
able to use the latest technology to
develop what he called "emotional pac-
"You want to be able to establish that
space and create those emotional highs
in key points in the story, but you're
using three-dimensional space rather
than the text," said Houghton, who
designed the original HMC exhibits in
West Bloomfield. "It's the difference
between showing a child a history book
and creating a space where they experi-
ence those same facts."
Houghton said working in close con-
tact with Rabbi Rosenzveig, HMC
founder and executive director, as well as
Southfield-based architects Neumann
Smith and Associates "started a whole
range of possibilities."
"Normally, the exhibit designers are
told, 'You're over there,' Houghton
said, referring to the inclusive interaction
his team received on the project. "We've
been able to create spaces, which assist
the history and the narrative."
While the original HMC Concentrat-
ed mostly on the Holocaust, the new
HMC will house two other museums,
the Museum of European Jewish
History (EJH) and the International
Institute of the Righteous (IIR), com-
memorating non-Jews who helped Jews
during the Holocaust.
"The challenge was to extend that
Holocaust story and develop it," said
Houghton, who recently completed the
Museum of Tolerance in New
York and another project in
Singapore. "We begin with the
pre-war experience and we're able
to extend that story all the way
through to the Institute of the
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sions that affect the outcome of the sce-
The aim is to make a really moving
and provocative experience for kids, said
One member of Houghton's team,
"Real kinds of people present you
Roy Twitchin, Newangle scriptwriter.
Jennifer Gruber, producer and director
with situations they find themselves in,"
"They're going to leave here with a lot of
at Hillman & Carr, a Washington,
Gruber said. "They tell you a friend of
ideas in their minds that maybe they'll
D.C.-based multimedia firm, was
theirs has applied for a job, but hasn't
resolve later, but this is about stimulat-
responsible for the "bookends," the EJH
been considered because he's a minority.
ing ideas as much as information."
and the IIR.
A mother has said a swastika has been
Bickerstaff said they mixed old
A 15-minute film that acts as a basic
painted on the JCC, and her son knows
archival footage of Auschwitz and other
introduction to Jewish life, culture and
something about it.
concentration camps with footage shot
language is a centerpiece in the EJH sit-
"What's different is you can send mes- last summer.
down theater, she said.
sages to other people at other terminals,"
"Capturing the recollection of memo-
"It also looks at Yiddish theatre and a
Gruber said. "It's finding a way to take
ry, then backing it up with file footage is
sense of the legacy that the Jewish cul-
the lessons they learned in the Holocaust going to be quite powerful," he said.
ture had on the world," said Gruber,
period and applying them. I hate to use
At one point, all visitors will
whose company produced exhibits at the the cliche, but it's cutting edge — in
encounter "the Abyss," a single-file sus-
Smithsonian Institution's Museum of
terms of how it runs and how we were
pended platform in a black room where
Natural History and permanent exhibits
able to push the technology to serve the
death camp liberation footage plays on
at the U.S. Holocaust Museum, both in
goals of the museum."
video screens of different sizes, placed at
different angles — 70 minutes of film
Two computer kiosks located near the
condensed into 10 minutes over seven
EJH's shtetl (village) mural will feature a
screens — and newsreel commentary
photo gallery of shted life, including a
At the HMC, much well-known histori- from journalists like CBS' Edward R.
look at the organization and role of the
cal material is being utilized in an inter-
Morrow can be heard in the back-
governing authority, the celebration of
pretive way, using multiple screens, said
holidays, language and education, she
design team member David Bickerstaff,
"The images are very powerful, so it
creative director of Newangle
just needs the smallest amounts of
"We tried to give people the flavor of
Multimedia in London.
sound. Just to hint at what's going on,"
life — 100 photos with descriptions that
"The experience will change as you
he said. "We've deliberately left in all the
include Yiddish proverbs — on touch-
move through the museum, the narra-
film trailers, the nasty cuts, because it
screen monitors. You can go as fast or
tive changes and shifts, the emphasis
adds to the genuine feel of the footage."
. slow as you want," she said.
changes and shifts, it moves from an
Rabbi Rosenzveig said the new HMC
The new HMC was planned not just
information piece into a more experi-
will provide much more information
for school groups on a guided tour, but
ence-orientated experience. It's very
and learning opportunities than a two-
for individuals to visit on their own.
much an immersive museum."
hour tour could provide.
A computer-based interactive exhibit
And nowhere is it more immersive
"We know very well that it is literally
called "What Would You Do?" is set up
than the Holocaust portion of the muse- impossible for the docents to cover the
in the IIR. A number of recorded sce-
um where visitors go from a single-
three museums in one visit," he said.
narios set up situations in which people
screen video tour of the Auschwitz
"What we intend to do is to whet their
need help. Linked by eight computer
Birkenau death camp complex to multi-
appetite so they come back with their
terminals, visitors can interact with each
screen camp liberation footage to a 20-
family and friends and see it again and -
other by role-playing and making deci-
minute "Survivor Theater" film.