“There are hundreds of flood myths from cultures all over the world, and most predate the Old Testament by thousands of years. This story of destruction and creation—of adaptation to a rapidly changing climate situation—is universal. Everyone, everywhere, can relate to those concerns, just as everyone can be inspired to be part of the solution.”
– Alan Maskin, Design Principal
Flanked on either side by the phenomenal works of Daniel Libeskind, namely the W. Michael Blumenthal Academy and the Jewish Museum in Berlin, Anoha by Olsen Kundig is a reinterpretation of Noah’s Ark for children. Built over a former flower market, the museum was inspired by the Skirball Cultural Center in Los Angeles by Kundig’s firm only. The 7m high wooden ark blends in enough to respect its Brutalist surroundings while carving out a niche of its own in the cityscape.
A competition was organised by the Jewish Museum Berlin in 2016 urging architects to bring forth child-centric designs which were attractive and interactive. At that time, Germany accepted a million refugees adding a layer of complexity to its societal structure. This compelled Olson Kundig to take into account the social and cultural diversity and come up with an inclusive safe space for the children. While narrating the flood myth, it promotes conversation around issues like climate change that threaten humankind’s existence today.
Structure and Material
The form seamlessly emulates the theme of reinterpreting old ideas with respect to the changing times. Its shape draws from the circular ark as prescribed in ancient Sumerian texts as well as the space station as seen in the movie 2001: A Space Odyssey. The Design Principal, Alan Muskin, explains that a traditional ark has a distinct front and back which is missing in the museum’s design to impart a sense of democracy and impartiality.
The project boasts of several sustainable strategies such as natural ventilation and passive daylight, diminishing reliance on mechanical systems. Additionally, the load-bearing walls and ceilings made of locally available materials like wood, feature an environmental buffer.
The design is based on the concept of ‘Early Excellence’, i.e., to enlighten the children before they enroll in formal education. It aims at creating a safe environment, accessible to all irrespective of their religion or ethnicity. The culturally diverse space welcomes not only the children but also their families, and the community as a whole.
The main hall, the ark, is home to around 150 animals sculpted by 18 German artists using handpicked recycled and scrap materials. The materiality appeals to the curious young minds, instilling in them the concept of reusing and recycling. The tactile sculptures adorn the ark not only in a decorative capacity but some can be used as hammocks, snuggle caves and monkey bars while some produce noise or store treasure.
Zebras, cows and deer bring some familiarity in a space where extinct, endangered and lesser-known animals like naked mole rats and mammoths also thrive. It aims to develop respect and tolerance for what may seem alien at first sight while pointing out environmental problems and their consequences.
Aside from the central ark, Anoha contains rooms and studios to conduct workshops and for the little something of genius to spark their multitude of talents. Activities carried out in the premise include theatre, music, dance or just gathering around to create something new along with the other visitors. The Jewish Museum Berlin is expanding its efforts to make the space more and more amiable for children. Workshops are being specially designed for children and their families, preschool and grade-school groups, as well as education professionals.
The Children’s Advisory Council
Given that the children were the primary stakeholders for this venture, an exclusive committee of children between ages eight and eleven, the Children’s Advisory Council, was formulated to ensure that the stakeholders were at the very core of the design process. To begin with, the Council toured the site to absorb the surroundings and get an idea of where their ‘creation’ would take concrete form. During the workshop, they were asked: “What kind of space do we need in order to dream up a different, better world?”
The children were given a round base to match the architecture of the Ark’s open interior. With modelling clay and scraps of paper, they put together what they deemed fit as per their whims and fantasies. In another workshop, members of the Children’s Advisory Council crafted a turtle for the Children’s Museum, which is on display in the Museum Garden.
In a society getting more complex by the day and environmental problems so commonplace that it seems as if that’s how things have always been, architecture can contribute towards a brighter future by sensitising the youth towards the prevailing issues. Anoha, the Children’s Museum, uses the story of creation, flood and new beginnings that have been described in various religions to encourage children to realise the gravity of the situation, be respectful of all beings and take action for a better tomorrow.
- Olsonkundig.com. n.d. Olson Kundig — ANOHA – The Children’s World of the Jewish Museum Berlin. [online] Available at: <https://olsonkundig.com/projects/childrens-museum-at-the-jewish-museum-berlin/> [Accessed 2 July 2021].
- Jewish Museum Berlin. n.d. ANOHA. [online] Available at: <https://www.jmberlin.de/en/ANOHA> [Accessed 2 July 2021].
- Cutieru, A., 2021. Olson Kundig Reinterprets Noah’s Ark for Children’s Experience at the Jewish Museum in Berlin. [online] ArchDaily. Available at: <https://www.archdaily.com/963876/olson-kundig-reinterprets-noahs-ark-for-childrens-experience-at-the-jewish-museum-in-berlin> [Accessed 3 July 2021].
- berlin.de. n.d. Anoha – Children’s World of the Jewish Museum. [online] Available at: <https://www.berlin.de/en/museums/6453864-3104050-anoha-childrens-world-of-the-jewish-muse.en.html> [Accessed 4 July 2021].