Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Gavriel Rosenfeld on Jewish Architecture

Gavriel D. Rosenfeld, associate professor of history at Fairfield University, has written a book entitled Building After Auschwitz: Jewish Architecture and the Memory of the Holocaust published by Yale University Press. A couple months ago, he sat down with the book's publishers for an interview on the meaning of the term 'Jewish Architecture' and the effect that the Holocaust had on Jewish design. Some excerpts:
Yale University Press: How do you define “Jewish architecture”?

Gavriel Rosenfeld: Jewish architecture does not exist in any stylistically recognizable sense.  Historically, the divergent experiences of Jews living in the diaspora prevented the emergence of a unified “Jewish style” of building.  Still, the buildings built by, and for, Jews over the centuries have exhibited Jewish traits in the myriad ways that they have reflected the historical forces that have shaped Jewish life.   Some of these forces have impacted the buildings used by Jews in indirect fashion.  In other instances, Jews have made deliberate efforts to draw on their cultural and religious traditions to infuse their buildings with a sense of Jewishness.  I prefer to think of Jewish architecture expansively, as buildings that express the Jewish historical experience.
YUP: How did the Holocaust affect Jewish artistic production, and architecture in particular?
GR: Jews in all fields of creative endeavor have been shaped by the legacy of the Nazi genocide, although not in the same way and certainly not at the same time.  While writers, poets, and painters, for example, began to wrestle with the Holocaust’s significance in the early years after 1945, architects by and large refrained from doing so until the 1980s.  Thereafter, the Holocaust’s legacy made itself felt in a variety of ways: in the deconstructivist movement, Holocaust museums, and even synagogue design. Overall, Jewish architects, like other creative figures, have struggled with the problem of how to represent the Holocaust in their work.  The architectural responses to this aesthetic and ethical challenge have been diverse and they are notable for breaking new ground both in the history of Jewish architecture and western architecture more broadly.
YUP: What are the greatest challenges that Jewish architects have faced in the past, and how are they dealing with these issues today?
GR: For centuries, Jews faced major obstacles in breaking into the field of architecture due to guild restrictions and other professional barriers.  This gradually changed with the onset of emancipation in the 19th and 20th centuries.  Today, Jews face few such hurdles.  Yet until recently, they were generally dissuaded from, and were inhibited about, expressing a sense of Jewishness in their work.  Since the 1960s, however, the rise of multiculturalism and postmodernism in the west has liberated Jews to draw on Jewish sources of inspiration in their designs.  This new sense of creative freedom has allowed some Jewish architects to attain unprecedented accomplishments and, at the same time, has made the architecture of Jewish architects more “Jewish.”
Read the entire interview on the publisher's website:

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