Twenty-five years ago, when Steven Spielberg finished directing the movie Schindler’s List, he realized his work was not done. Many Holocaust survivors’ stories still needed to be told—to preserve their memories, to bear witness, to learn from the past. He soon established the Shoah Foundation, dedicated to capturing such personal narratives on video. The organization has since archived more than 54,000 recordings in 43 languages and expanded its mission to seek out testimonies from genocides in Rwanda, Cambodia, Guatemala, Armenia, and elsewhere. Educational organizations worldwide subscribe to the archive. But the institute had no publicly accessible headquarters until last November, when Santa Monica, California–based Belzberg Architects (BA) converted the top floor of a University of Southern California (USC) library into the foundation’s 10,000-square-foot “mother ship.”

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Now called the USC Shoah Foundation (USCSF), the institute began, in 1994, in trailers at Universal Studios, joining USC in 2006 and moving to cubicles on campus. Lacking was accommodation for visitors, teamwork, or programs that could include distinguished speakers, outreach to school children, and scholarly research residencies. The staff needed an open, collaborative environment with flexibility, and respite from the emotionally intense work.

BA principal Hagy Belzberg, knowing his own family’s Holocaust history, understood the importance of a safe-feeling, comfortable setting, particularly for survivors who might visit, work here, or come to record testimony. Now the elevator doors open directly into a soothing atmosphere, distinct from the existing library beneath. The lighting is subdued, sobering, filtered overhead through amber metal mesh. A forest of pillars—digital kiosks—invites individuals to explore USCSF’s offerings, as live lectures, or other content, animate a large, interactive back wall. While immersive, the space also connects with views outdoors, a conscious measure, across the entire floor, to keep it from ever seeming confining.

Bordering this entry hall is a daylit zone, with a suspended word-sculpture integrating phrases from one survivor’s testimony. With glass doors leading into other spaces, this area has a welcoming, luminous transparency, but unauthorized visitors can go no farther. “Given the subject matter’s sensitivity,” says Belzberg, “it needed high security without losing the feeling of openness. It’s a subtle balance.”

The west wing includes meeting and research areas, plus places the public can experience by invitation or tour. One room offers a survivorled, virtual-reality walk through a concentration camp while, in a lounge, visitors can converse, via artificial intelligence, with a videoed Holocaust survivor, who appears life-size, onscreen.

The east wing provides staff workstations, with a diagonal layout that maximizes openness and options ranging from group to individual areas, from conventional desks to standing or mobile choices. Work counters along the windows face outdoors, and slide-away glass walls can convert enclosed conference rooms into wide-open “town hall” configurations. The scheme is a collage of “neighborhoods,” defined by changes in flooring (from hardwood to carpeting), in texturally rich, acoustic material overhead, and in textiles from countries in USCSF’s orbit. Along with the patterned fabrics and oak floors, an open kitchen and furnishings such as sofas and poufs convey an intentionally homey feel.

“It’s phenomenal,” says USCSF managing director Kim Simon. “This design supports the very difficult work we do, both together and apart. There’s peacefulness and serene light; nothing is superfluous—everything’s here to meet a need. That has real integrity, and giving voice to people who have suffered has integrity. It’s rare to match your physical space with your mission. Yet that has been accomplished here.”



Belzberg Architects, 2321 Main Street, Santa Monica, California, 90405, 310.453.9611,


Personnel in architect's firm who should receive special credit:

Hagy Belzberg FAIA OAA (Partner-in-Charge), Lindsey Sherman Contento RA and Cory Taylor AIA (Project Manager/Project Architect), Ashley Coon, Adrian Cortez, Barry Gartin, Aaron Leshtz, Corie Saxman


Interior designer:

Belzberg Architects, Jennifer Wu (Interior Design Lead), J. Joshua Hanley, Alexis Roohani, Susan Nwankpa Gillespie, Katelyn Miersma, Melissa Yip



Structural Consultant: BuroHappold

MEP Engineer: BuroHappold



Project Management: USC Capital Construction Development

Lighting Design: BuroHappold

Signage and Wayfinding: Egg Office

Access Control: Exante 360

Acoustic Design: Newsom Brown

Fire Sprinkler: Arup

Exhibition Designer: The Maude Group

AV Design: MAD Systems

Specifications: Arcom


General contractor:

Clune Construction



Bruce Damonte



Special doors: Sliding Stacking Wall: PK30



Cabinetry Hardware:

Edgecliff Pull: Schoolhouse

Alberta Pull: Schoolhouse


Interior Finishes

Acoustical ceilings:

Softfold: Arktura

Vapor with custom perforation pattern: Arktura

Custom Cabinetry: Seeley Brothers

Custom Bench Seating: Spectrum Oak

Paints and stains: Vista Paint

Wall coverings: Soft Sound: Arktura;

Carpet: Overlay Accent II: Tandus Centiva

Special interior finishes unique to this project:

Area Rugs:

West Berlin Area Rug: Lindstrom Rugs

Wood Flooring:

Durango European Oak (Engineered): via Wood-Concepts

Upholstery / Upholstered Walls:

Custom upholstery based on traditional regional patterns: Opuzen

Custom wall upholstery based on traditional regional patterns: Opuzen

Acoustical Wall Upholstery: Guildford of Maine


Time 300 Sheer Fabric: Maharam

Stone / Solid Surface Countertops:

Saint Pierre Linear Marble: Stone Source

Seagrass Limestone: Walker Zanger

Café Argento Marble: Walker Zanger

Catalina Mist Marble Mosaic: Daltile

Sleek Concrete: Caesarstone




Intuity Benching System: BANGDESIGN & Haworth Design Studio

Task chairs:

Projek Task Chair: Orangebox Limited via Teknion

Lounge furniture:

Item Sofa: Bernhardt Designs

Log Lounge Chairs: Pedrali via Morlen Sinoway

Bubble Ottoman: Roche Bobois

Nivola Armchair: Poltrona Frau

Laurel Side Table in Marble: De La Espada via Morlen Sinoway

Strato Coffee Table: Living Divani via Casa Design Boston

Bikini Island Benches: Moroso via DDC NYC

Bardot Chairs: Bernhardt Designs

Duda Counter Stool: Sossego via LGS Group

Conference room furniture:

Custom Walnut/Lacquer Executive Conference Table: Monte Allen Collection

Flex Executive Chair: Andreau World via Lauren Todd and Associates

SW-1 Conference Chair: Coalesse via Tangram Interiors

SW-1 Low Collaborative Conference Table: Coalesse via Tangram Interiors

Metal Wolfgang Chair: Fornasarig via Morlen Sinoway
Flex Folding Table: ICF via LGS Group


Pacific Office Interiors

Office Furniture Group, Inc.

Tangram Interiors



Stem mounted downlighting: iGuzzini/Sisremalux

Decorative lighting:

Brass T Ceiling Fixture: Allied Maker

Middle Sky Bang Pendant: STICKBULB

Tri Pendant Light: Resident