USC Shoah Foundation – The Institute for Visual History and Education Global Headquarters

Designed by: Belzberg Architects
For client: USC Shoah Foundation Floor area: 930.00 M² Year of completion: 2018
Submitted for: Learning Space of the Year

Usc Shoah Foundation Photoby Bruce Damonte 4
© Bruce Damonte

The project features a mix of residential furniture and puffs with custom fabrics we adapted from original artifacts from countries represented in the Institute's archive.

About the Project

The new Global Headquarters of USC Shoah Foundation is a conduit to the Institute’s growing collection of over 55,000 video testimonies by witnesses of genocide and supports its nearly 100-person staff to realize the Institute’s mission: “to develop empathy, understanding and respect through testimony.” For the first time, the Foundation has its own public space, allowing them to welcome visitors, mount exhibitions, and host events. Designed with deep emotional and cultural sensitivity, the new headquarters is an immersive, didactic environment that adapts to the needs of this important institution.
Dual functionality and flexibility were critical to accommodating the breadth of program required. Moveable walls, modular conference tables, and flexible seating options organized into “neighborhoods” allow the optimal performance for a variety of uses and users. Every detail in the design was therefore developed at a fine grain while achieving the over-arching goal of enabling the Institute to realize its multi-faceted global mission.
Fundamental to the Foundation’s mission is storytelling as a way to engage and educate. While the design conveys archival narratives through exhibition, interactive technology, commissioned art, materiality, and extensive programming, it also tells the story of the Institute and how it goes about achieving its mission. The design of the spatial and digital experience of the project embodies this didactic duality in every way.

What’s unique about it

The headquarters aims to convey the narrative of the Institute and its efforts while also facilitating the discovery, dissemination, study, preservation, and continued collection of testimonies. Visitors are greeted by glowing, shapely pillars and walls with interactive touchscreens that invite exploration of the collection. Whether at these consoles, New Dimensions in Testimony (a life-size, interactive display of a Holocaust survivor), or the new VR experience in development, the space integrates unique digital access points, allowing individual or group learning and remote content curation.
The project responds to the Institute’s highly unique mission and diverse visitor and user base. In addition, the emotional and cultural sensitivity required for this project far exceeds the typical level and necessitated a close collaboration with our client. The extent of our partnership is exemplified by the use of customized textiles and fabrics throughout the project. With the assistance of the Institute and several of their international partners, we developed textile repeats from artifacts relevant to the collection and the numerous cultures represented in the archive. These bespoke designs appear in lounge areas, meeting room seating, personal cubbies, and as wall coverings. Each of the designs comes with their own history and cultural significance, and their inclusion provides another way to engage narratives within the archive.

Usc Shoah Foundation Floor Plan
© Belzberg Architects

Tours of the Institute are critical to sharing its message – what they accomplish and how. To facilitate them, a skewed processional corridor was established from end to end as demonstrated by the project's floor plan.

Usc Shoah Foundation Photoby Bruce Damonte 9
© Bruce Damonte

The design responds to the emotionally charged archive and the nature of the Institute’s work by including generous natural light, open sightlines in conjunction with a neutral color palette and privacy curtains as seen in this meeting room for Distinguis

Usc Shoah Foundation Photoby Bruce Damonte 8
© Bruce Damonte

We cut and routed the recycled material used in the acoustic ceiling system above the work areas into a custom graphic treatment found throughout the project, including here in the walls and ceiling of a meeting room.

Usc Shoah Foundation Photoby Bruce Damonte 7
© Bruce Damonte

Flexible "neighborhoods" have a variety of bench seating, standing desks and hot desk options, surrounding a central table; each workstation has a moveable cubby of drawers with custom fabric cushion tops for impromptu one-on-one conversations.

Usc Shoah Foundation Photoby Bruce Damonte 6
© Bruce Damonte

A faceted dropped ceiling datum distinguishes work areas from circulation space, hiding large conduits discovered during demolition. The change in floor-to-ceiling height is a subtle spatial queue that acts as wayfinding and helps alleviate the emotional

Usc Shoah Foundation Photoby Bruce Damonte 5
© Bruce Damonte

Flexibility was built-in with moveable walls that transform areas including the junction between the Main Conference Room, the Instructional and Study Room and Kitchen. When open (as shown), the central space can accommodate a 100-seat Town Hall layout wi

Usc Shoah Foundation Photoby Bruce Damonte 3
© Bruce Damonte

Digital storytelling and commissioned artwork in the corridor off the lobby continue to convey the breadth and depth of the archive.

Usc Shoah Foundation Photoby Bruce Damonte 2
© Bruce Damonte

An interactive wall in the lobby facilitates individual and group exploration of and engagement with the digital archive.

Usc Shoah Foundation Photoby Bruce Damonte 1
© Bruce Damonte

Upon arrival, custom built-in information pillars greet the public, providing an introduction to the collection and Institute in a multimedia exhibition.

Location of project:
Belzberg Architects

USC Capital Construction Development

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