What material and form could adequately express the memory of a catastrophe as unbearable as the martyrdom of 6 million Jews in the Holocaust? In 1967, on the recommendation of Philip Johnson, a committee charged with building such a memorial in New York City commissioned Louis Kahn to design it. The monument was to be situated in Battery Park, at the southern tip of Manhattan, where it would have distant views of the Statue of Liberty. Kahn proposed an abstract design: a granite pedestal supporting seven glass piers, so that, in his words, "the sun could come through and leave a shadow filled with light."
This spectacular image, the sole drawing included in an exhibition devoted to the Memorial at The Museum of Modern Art in 1968, captures the sense of transparency and reflection that Kahn envisioned through loose, energetic strokes of charcoal pencil on the luminous yellow paper. The drawing focuses on the central glass pier, made of glass blocks etched with inscriptions in Hebrew and English, and built to contain a small circular chapel. Around this central space are the other six piers, all of them solid glass. Kahn described the immaterial quality these vitreous forms would have: "Changes of light, the seasons of the year, the play of the weather, and the drama of movement on the river will transmit their life to the monument." This structure of light embodied hope as well as despair. The project is contemporary with one of Kahn's last philosophical concepts, "silence and light," where light symbolizes the source of life and the inspiration of the creative act.
Publication excerpt from an essay by Peter Reed, in Matilda McQuaid, ed., Envisioning Architecture: Drawings from The Museum of Modern Art, New York: The Museum of Modern Art, 2002, p. 134.