RIEHLE KOETH’s minimalist approach and flare for exquisite material choices has earned the German firm first prize in a competition to design a new home for the Arolsen Archives: International Center on Nazi Persecution, the world’s largest archive for documents on the victims and survivors of Nazism. Arolsen Archives hosts documents, objects, and historical ephemera pertaining to the millions of victims of Nazi Germany, including 30 million documents from the Nazi era and post-war period, 50 million reference cards from the Central Name Index, and 3 million correspondence files with inquiries submitted to the archive over seven decades.
The Arolsen Archives is connected to UNESCO’s Memory of the World program aimed at the preserving documentary heritage where conflict and natural disasters have taken place. The new Archive will be sited outside of the German city of Kassel in Bad Arolsen, reachable by high-speed rail.
Founded in 1950 as Riehle+Assoziierte, the firm was renamed RIEHLE KOETH’s earlier this year. Its winning entry is made of concrete and wood and broken into two volumes: one is a low-lying, single-story space for group gatherings; the other a 4-story volume setback from the entry way where the archives are held. There’s also one story of storage space below grade. The single-story volume is expressed using smooth concrete while the archival tower features a rough finish.
Conceptually, architects who participated in the competition were tasked with creating a proposal about “preservation and remembrance.” Jurors commended the submission by RIEHLE KOETH and KRAFT.RAUM for “an admirably clear and coherent solution for this challenging building project,” a press release stated.
“The building will also be a place of remembrance, and it must provide suitable space for the emotional moments that arise when people are confronted with personal fates,” said Floriane Azoulay, director of the Arolsen Archives. “The designs that were submitted show that challenging tasks such as these are not in conflict with functionality or with the need to provide an optimal working atmosphere for our employees.”
In total, there were 13 jurors overseeing the competition entries, and over 50 architecture firms submitted proposals. Nieto Sobejano Arquitectos—a Madrid- and Berlin-based architecture firm, recently awarded first place in a design competition to renovate the Dallas Museum of Art—came in second place. Third place went to AFF Architekten, another Berlin firm. The winning proposal by RIEHLE KOETH and KRAFT.RAUM, the partnering landscape firm, was applauded by jurors for its exciting contrast; it posits a heavy, closed cube surrounding a light, transparent pavilion-style structure designed to provide an inviting atmosphere for remembrance.
“Eighty years after the institution’s foundation, the Arolsen Archives are finally receiving an external shell that reflects the importance of this archive,” said Professor Gesine Weinmiller, a jury member. “Thirty million documents on victims of Nazi persecution will be stored here for posterity under perfect conservation conditions at last. The archive is both a place of research and a memorial. We have managed to select three exceptionally good pieces of work from a large number of outstanding designs. This bodes well for the new building.”
At the Arolsen Archives, the top designs are on display for the public until November 17. The new Arolsen Archives building is set for completion in 2028, with the total project cost estimated at $18 million.