THE U.S. NATIONAL HOLOCAUST MEMORIAL MUSEUM, WASHINGTON D.C.

The National Holocaust Memorial Museum, designed by James Ingo Freed of I.M. Pei Associates was perhaps the museum opening of the decade on Washington's "Museum Row." Originally we were asked to design entry and egress systems for an exhibit area adjacent to the main entry hall. The main hall is a large voluminous space in masonry, steel and glass with a reverberation time in excess of seven seconds. The concern was that crowd sounds lingering in the main hall would interfere and detract from the exhibit. After we designed a low maintenance, sound blocking entry, we found ourselves working within the exhibit to support the visceral experience of the presentation.

"Daniel's House" Exhibit in the U.S. National Holocaust Memorial Museum was designed by Darcy Fohrman and Associates. The exhibit follows the life of a young boy and his family through the European/Jewish Holocaust years. Ten years time and much of Eastern Europe are condensed into four small, interconnected rooms. The challenge in this setting is having the visitors feel that they have moved a great distance when they have only moved a few feet. The clues for the transitions are induced by the visual elements of the exhibit, the large perceptual shifts in location are promoted by tempering the local acoustical environments - at one point a visitor hears their local environment reflected back at them, at the next point their own sounds are absorbed by their surroundings - giving them the sense that these points are in entirely separate areas.


"Daniel's House" exhibit also includes sound elements such as street sounds, background conversation and environmental sounds. These sounds are blended into the environment through the use of high fidelity concealed speakers, placed to avoid any source proximity effects. The planned background sound for the "boxcar" was to be a deep background rumble of a steam locomotive with the high scraping of brakes slowly pulling away from the station. This sound element had to be pulled on account of the deep psychological impact it had - a testimonial to the importance of sound in conveying feelings and emotional information.