Located on the corner of Turnergasse and Dingelstedtgasse in Vienna’s 15th district, the Turner Temple, one of Vienna’s most important synagogues, was set on fire in the night from November 9 to 10, 1938. A cultural asset, a religious site, a place of contemplation and communal life was destroyed, wiped out overnight. Passers-by and neighbors just watched. As contemporary witnesses remembered, the fire brigade only prevented the spreading of the flames to the adjoining buildings, but did not fight the fire. […]
The idea was to create a memory site, which, making the events that occurred there more than 70 years ago visible and tangible, would be experienced as an unusual and irritating intervention. The place we had in mind was one where nothing was withheld, concealed, covered up. A place standing out from its surroundings. A place of in-depth consideration, but also of mourning. It was to unfold something beautiful, draw a picture, and form a space. A memory site revealing the past and opening up for the future. A place simple and complex all in one. And a place clearly set off from its urban context: at a nonsite between streets and municipal residential building, a sign between lost history and blurred traces to make things graspable, insist on visibility, produce something unmistakably different, and yet remain exact and clear without maneuvering or obliterating anything.
This place of remembrance should also present itself as a city plaza, as an urban meeting point and place of relaxation. A ramp provides access for the disabled.
We simply wanted a place that would be livable and would be used. The design provided the organization of the area, the graphic design and furnishing measures, as well as an archaeological dimension: the solution was both a symbol and a space. Not a reconstruction, but a construction. Not a real place, but a metaphorical one that activates memory. The site presents itself as the imaginary space of the roof truss after the fire — resembling a cry breaking the silence of forgetting. The Turnertempel Erinnerungsort (Memory Site Turner Temple) is a place to make people think, a place where both the destructive force of the past and the life-affirming energy of the present and the future become manifest.
The starting point was a letter of 1938 from the municipal authorities urging the Israelite Community to remove what was left after the fire at its own expense. This is why heavy dark concrete beams, which represent the imaginary real picture of the burnt collapsed roof truss of the synagogue, structure the site now. The prefabricated elements are partly flush with the ground and partly jut or grow out from it. Some, depending on their shape, have been sunk into the ground and fixed, others run into the steps at the street. [...]
Sunk in the ground, they look like petrified wood. The accessible area has a surface of beige sand right up to the trees that surround it. It forms a clear contrast to the beams and an optical link to the patches of mosaic inlaid into the ground in the street leading up to the square.
The winning design connects internal spaces, niches and zones. The planned structuring through the concrete beams and the steps running around the site pull people up to it, make them stay there, offer them room and distance. The beams show a haptic wood grain, which comes from the wooden shuttering in which they were cast. They also provide a pattern, marks, and furniture.
The mosaic patches are reminiscent of archaeological finds, which aim to forge a bridge between the tragic past and a confident present and future. It is actually a picture puzzle the viewer or visitor is confronted with, a picture with an inherent ambiguity: the mosaic areas spreading succinctly under the linden trees show fruits, plants, and leaves taken from the Torah and relating to the Jewish faith. […]
Pomegranates, olives, figs, and dates feature as surreal elements that might have fallen from the trees. They hint at a completely different flora, though. Rendered in a plastic way, they present themselves as leftovers from or starters for a banquet. They make us think of different cultural regions and religions, of their plants, fruits, and tastes beyond any definite season.
In addition, the mosaics can also be read as inspired by the early Christian floor mosaics in the synagogues in Tzipori from the fifth or early sixth century or near Beit Alpha from the second century. These also always depict plants such as herbs-of-grace and fruit. Likewise, they relate to a conceptual Pompeian floor mosaic representing the leftovers of a banquet. This model now links in with the Turner Temple’s wall painting in the Pompeian style. Thus the mosaics are apparently archaeological finds but unambiguously suggest a more recent period of origin: olives in a plastic bag, a squashed drinks can, or a pistachio cone make this clear.
An enameled panel positioned against the wall of the neighboring house informs in several languages about the Turner Temple’s history, its destruction in 1938, the disappearance of the district’s Jewish community, and the development of the new solution for the site. It also offers suggestions for further indepth multi-media information.
Text: Hubert Lobnig, János Kárász
Based on: Kunst im öffentlichen Raum GmbH ( ed.), Memory Site Turner Temple: Searching for a Reflexive Archaeology, Nuremberg 2012, pp. 34ff. (abridged)
Turnergasse / Dingelstedtgasse, 1150 Wien
*1962 in Völkermarkt (AT) lives and works in Vienna
*1951 in Wien, lives and works in Vienna and Munich (DE)
lives and works in Vienna (AT)
This project was selected as a winner's project in the course of an artistic competition. For more information please follow this link: