The Holocaust Memorial Resource and Education Center of Florida (HMREC) has shared initial design renderings of its Holocaust Museum for Hope & Humanity, a forthcoming 43,000-square-foot Orlando facility that will be the first Holocaust museum designed around survivor and witness testimonies. “This museum is not a history lesson in artifacts, timelines, and numbers,” the HMREC explained in its design reveal announcement. “Its strength will come from the manner in which Holocaust history is revealed through the survivors who tell of their experiences.”
The HMREC was first established in 1981 by Tess Wise, a Holocaust survivor from Poland, and is based in the nearby by suburban Orlando city of Maitland where it opened its current 7,000-square-foot museum in 1986 as the first Holocaust museum in the Southeastern United States.
The center’s new museum, described by HMREC Board of Directors president Monte Starr as a “literal beacon of light for all who visit,” will be located on the northern end of downtown Orlando opposite Lake Ivanhoe at the site of the city’s old Chamber of Commerce building. Designed by noted Florida modernist and Frank Lloyd Wright protégé Nils Schweizer, the local landmark was vacated by the Chamber in 2018. The HMREC had initially planned to move into the late 1970s-era, brise soleil–clad building and adapt and expand it into a museum space. That, however, is no longer the case as the HMREC has now envisioned a “complete reimagining of its site” in which the existing building will be replaced with a wholly new lakeside structure designed by Beyer Blinder Belle (BBB).
BBB’s design for the Holocaust Museum of Hope & Humanity will include exhibition space spread across two levels with the largest single exhibition area spanning over 12,000 square feet. Another major feature is a cylindrical auditorium that will be wrapped in “a dramatic ramp bathed in natural light.” Overlooking an oval-shaped water feature and the lake beyond will be a large, glazed aperture described as a “window of hope.”
“The window of hope is oriented eastward and opens to the remembrance fountain, a contemplative water feature reflecting on six million lives,” elaborated Hany Hassan, partner at BBB. “The building design reflects the museum’s solemn responsibility to share and preserve the stories of the survivors and uses architectural form, space, and volume in concert with the collection to educate, engender empathy, and inspire. The museum will be a transformative experience for visitors of all ages and a welcoming beacon of hope and humanity.”
The City of Orlando and the HMREC ironed out a 99-year lease agreement with the nonprofit paying $1 annually for use of the city-owned land. Per the announcement, Orange County has pledged $10 million in tourist development tax grants toward the museum’s construction.
Joining BBB on the $43 million project is leading exhibition design firm Ralph Appelbaum Associates. Steven Spielberg’s USC Shoah Foundation—The Institute for Visual History and Education has also teamed with the HMREC as a key creative partner, marking the first time that it has worked on a ground-up, permanent Holocaust museum project. The USC Shoah Foundation is behind one of the Holocaust Museum for Hope & Humanity’s core exhibits, Dimensions in Testimony, which enables museum guests “to ask questions to specially-recorded interactive testimonies of Holocaust survivors and hear real-time responses in lifelike conversation.”
“The architecture of the new museum embodies the imperative of survivors, including my mother, Tess Wise, founder of the Holocaust Center, to learn from the Holocaust in order to prevent such an event from ever happening to anyone again,” said Ellen Wise Lang, past president of the HMREC Board of Directors. “ It’s a memorial to those who perished in the form of the beacon to the world that can create hope for a better future… Preserving the past to protect the future.”
News of the first-of-its-kind Holocaust Museum for Hope & Humanity comes just a month after Brooks + Scarpa’s Passage of the Heart, a monumental interactive sculpture clad in locally sourced limestone and bronze panels, was selected by the Florida State Legislature as the winning design in a competition seeking proposals for a Florida Holocaust Memorial on the grounds of the state capitol complex in Tallahassee. Florida—South Florida in particular—is home to the largest population of Holocaust survivors in the United States.
The new museum is slated to open in 2025.