By itself, the image is not necessarily striking: a battered boxcar being hoisted into place at a construction site. Its power lies in knowing its history. The car, an exhibit at the new Museum of Memory and Tolerance, which opens next year in Mexico City, once transported Jews and other people destined for Nazi death camps in Poland during the Holocaust.
Although institutions commemorating Jewish history are common throughout Europe and the United States, museums that explore tolerance are less so—perhaps because they require something tangible, like the boxcar, to make this abstract concept real. According to Arturo Arditti, a principal of Arditti+RDT Arquitectos, just this sort of museum is needed in Mexico. “There’s a lack of knowledge about genocides elsewhere in the world,” he explains. “This museum will educate people about history, but it will also show them the importance of diversity, which is not widely addressed in Mexico.”
The 70,000-square-foot museum is, significantly, located in Plaza Juarez adjacent to the Mexican Ministry of Foreign Affairs and a federal courts complex, which was designed by Legorreta + Legorreta. Arditti, together with his father and brother—who make up the family-owned Arditti+RDT—took aesthetic cues from these government buildings. Wood-framed windows, inset into the exposed concrete walls of the podium, continue a rhythm established on the ministry’s facades. A four-story cube rises from this base. Along its south elevation, facing a plaza defined by the Legorreta buildings, a glass wall allows light into a central atrium.
A children’s memorial, intended for children, will be located inside a small cubic volume cantilevered above this internal void from two supports—“like two hands holding it,” Arditti says. While the Polish boxcar is unquestionably the museum’s most important historic artifact, Arditti sees this children’s space as its main architectural and symbolic element. “The only way to change prejudice is to educate kids,” he says, “because older people won’t be able to change.”