manuel herz architects introduces a new and design-minded synagogue to ukraine‘s wooded region of babyn yar. located in the west of kyiv, the area marks the site of one of the worst massacres of the nazi regime. across two days of september, 1941 approximately thrity five thousand jewish people were killed by german troops. over the following weeks and months an additional one hundred thousand victims were murdered within the grounds of babyn yar. a ‘holocaust by bullets,’ the event represents one of the worst atrocities of the twentieth century. the timber project thus serves as a memorial to the unimaginable tragedy that had taken place at this forested ground.

babyn yar synagogue
images courtesy of manuel herz architects | babyn yar holocaust memorial center (BYHMC)

to celebrate the active babyn yar synagogue along such a solemn site, manuel herz architects playfully designs the project to suggest a pop-up book. during the service, a congregation comes together, to collectively read together, a practice that informs the design of the space. the pop-up book is defined by its transforming pages that unfold in three dimensions. when unfolded from a flat object, a new space is created. when closed, the building stands as a flat, and vertical structure. when manually opened, the timber and steel structure unfolds into the three-dimensional space of the synagogue. the opening process is a collective ritual, performed by the congregation, as a manual and physical task, intentionally without the support of a motor.

babyn yar synagogue

to ensure a unifying quality down to its very materiality, the babyn yar synagogue is constructed of locally sourced ukrainian timber. the wood used is more than a hundred years old. it will therefore connect the time of before the massacre, to the contemporary era. the walls are ornamented with prayers and blessings, while the ceiling is painted with a collection of symbols and iconography to recall the interior of the historic synagogues of ukraine from the 17th and 18th century that have since been destroyed. together, the symbols recreate the astrological constellation that was visible over kyiv on the night of september 29th, 1941. for the visitors, looking up into the ceiling of the new synagogue will create a subtle link to the night that the massacre started.

babyn yar synagogue babyn yar synagogue babyn yar synagogue the babyn yar synagogue is playfully designed to unfold like a pop-up book the babyn yar synagogue is playfully designed to unfold like a pop-up book babyn yar synagogue

project info:

project title: babyn yar synagogue

architecture: manuel herz architects

location: babyn yar, ukraine

client: babyn yar holocaust memorial center (BYHMC)

completion: march 2021