Presenting the Difficult Past: Günther Domenig’s Documentation Center of the National Socialist Party Rally Grounds, Nuremberg, Germany

Rumiko Handa,  University of Nebraska-Lincoln



Nuremberg’s Documentation Center, opened in 2001, is located a couple of miles outside the city wall, on the former National Socialist Party Rally Grounds designed by Albert Speer. It reuses a portion of the pre-existing but unfinished Congress Hall, designed in the 1930s by Ludwig and Franz Ruff. Modeled after the Roman Coliseum, the Hall consisted of U-shaped main body with 50,000 seats and two orthogonal blocks terminating each end of the U. The Austrian architect Günther Domenig won the 1998 international competition, proposing to thrust a “spear” of steel and glass diagonally through one of the two blocks. The space sized about 6” wide and 9” tall serves as the museum entrance on one end and a platform overlooking the vast arena on the other. This paper will reflect on how a piece of architecture has a way of presenting the past that took place there. And it will ask a specific question of how the architect could deal with a pre-existing building that carries a difficult past. Documentation Center is a special case: First, the city of Nuremberg and its citizens hosted the Nazi rallies annually from 1933 to 1938. It took the community half a century before they settled to generate an institution that would constantly remind them of their participation in the genocide. Second, the architect personally struggled with his own anti-Semitism, whose father was a party member killed by the resistance, and who, when young, had to reconcile with the fact that many important architects were Jewish. The paper will examine for the background the transformation of the city’s memory culture and politics. The paper’s main question will be: whether and how the architect could take advantage of the pre-existing architecture as a memory place.



Rumiko Handa is a Professor and the Interim Associate Dean of the College of Architecture, University of Nebraska-Lincoln. Registered architect in Japan, she holds Ph.D., M.S. and M.Arch. from the University of Pennsylvania and B.Arch. from the University of Tokyo. She teaches architectural theory, design research, and architecture in film as well as design studios. Her writings appeared in the journals of: Interiors: Design, Architecture, Culture; Society of Architectural Historians; Preservation Education & Research; Bibliographical Society of America; Design Studies; Space Magazine, etc., and are included in Architecture, Culture, and Spirituality: Essays on the Experience, Significance, and Meaning of the Built Environment (2015) and Architecture and Mathematics from Antiquity to the Future (2015). She co-edited Conjuring the Real: The Role of Architecture in Eighteenth- and Nineteenth-Century Fiction (2011) and authored Allure of the Incomplete, Imperfect, and Impermanent: Designing and Appreciating Architecture as Nature (2015).