The Evidence Room revisits Auschwitz for Venice Biennale exhibit

The Evidence Room, a powerful, Canadian-made architectural exhibit featuring a gas column and airtight door replicated from Auschwitz, is heading to the Venice Biennale this spring.

Based on report by Ontario professor and Holocaust expert Robert Jan van Pelt

014 – Waterloo Architecture Students Alexandru Vilcu, Siobhan Allman, Anna Longrigg, and Piper Bernbaum Review the Auschwitz Crematorium Evidence Plans with Waterloo Architecture Professor and The Evidence Room Co-Principal Robert Jan van Pelt (Fred Hunsberger)

A powerful, Canadian-made architectural exhibit, featuring a gas column and airtight door replicated from a forensic analysis of the Auschwitz concentration camp, is heading to the Venice Biennale this spring.

The 15th International Architecture Exhibition, which gets underway in Venice in late May, will include a group exhibition entitled Reporting from the Front

010 – Interior Perspective of Gas Chamber Door in The Evidence Room (Siobhan Allman, Anna Longrigg, Donald McKay, Michael Nugent, Nicole Ratajczak, Alexandru Vilcu)

Ontario professor and Holocaust expert Robert Jan van Pelt and his team (including Anne Bordeleau, Donald McKay and Sascha Hastings) have been invited by the Biennale's artistic director of architecture — acclaimed designer and recent Pritzker Prize-winner Alejandro Aravena — to create an installation as part of the larger overall exhibit.

The work, called The Evidence Room, is based on University of Waterloo professor and scholar Jan van Pelt's crucial testimony about Auschwitz in the infamous Irving trial. 

In 2000, notorious British Holocaust denier and revisionist historian David Irving sued American Holocaust scholar Deborah Lipstadt and her British publisher for libel in Britain's Royal High Court of Justice. 

008 – Gasdoor Peephole Photograph Detail (Photo by unknown Russian photographer)

English libel law puts the burden of proof on the defence, so Lipstadt's team was forced to prove that her claims about the Holocaust — that the Nazis systematically murdered six million European Jews  — were true.

Dutch-born Jan van Pelt served as an expert witness during the trial. His testimony— informed forensic interpretation of Auschwitz's blueprints and architectural remains — helped to decisively defeat Irving's lawsuit and shone a light on a new discipline: architectural forensics.

To create The Evidence Room, Jan van Pelt, his team and students from the University of Waterloo are making life-sized replicas and casts of key pieces described in his testimony about Auschwitz, including a gas column, gas door, a section of wall with a gas-tight hatch and other items that definitively proved the site was a factory of death.

The exhibition will also be detailed in a forthcoming book.

The Evidence Room will be shown in the central pavilion of the International Architecture Exhibition in Venice, from May 28 to November 27. 

Canada's official submission to the Biennale is Extraction, a project led by landscape urbanist Pierre Bélanger.

003 – Waterloo Architecture Students Anna Beznogova and Anna Longrigg Prepare a Mould for Casting (Piper Bernbaum)