Three Buildings With One Singular Message

Inappropriate Holocaust and Nazi references in design of buildings, particularly crematoriums

In the past we have presented a variety of lovely architecturally-worthy crematorium designs: See the Island Crematorium of Rocky Island, Ireland, and the Ashwinlkumar Crematorium of Surat, India. Today I want to address just how much the design of a building can reveal about its creators.

Woodland crematorium Portico, cremation, holocaust

Skogskyrkogarden Crematorium Portico

Recently I was excited to stumble on the modern Skogskyrkogarden, which in English is The Woodland Crematorium, located in Sweden and designed in 1940 by Swedish architect Erik Gunnar Asplund.  Woodland Crematorium is a very popular Swedish tourist stop. It’s a striking example of modernism, and is at first glance quite elegant.

Then I took a second look and this image gave me the chills – I’ll repeat “the chills.” I immediately realized it was not just another pretty building.

Cranbrook Academy of Art

Here’s the Cranbrook Academy of Art Peristyle located in Bloomfield Hills, Michigan designed in the 1940’s by Eliel Saarinen, a Finnish architect. To the right of the peristyle is an art museum and to the left is a library. Notice how similar the designs are? They were both designed around the same time. The similarities are no coincidence; as anyone who has studied architecture is well aware, architects influence each other. I was aware that this building was inspired by a design of the German architect Albert Speer. Years ago, when I learned this, Google images did not exist.

Zepplien Field

Zeppelin Field

The above image is Zeppelin Field designed by Albert Speer in 1932. Albert Speer was Hitler’s architect and Zeppelin Field was the Nazi party rally grounds. Not only are all three of these designs similar but also note that Zeppelin Field was designed and built first. So both Asplund and Saarinen were inspired by Speer’s Nazi architecture. (In case you were wondering, Albert Speer was inspired by the Pergamon Altar, one of the most famous items in the Berlin Collection of Classical Antiquities.)

If you think perhaps Saarinen and Asplund were also simply influenced by Pergamon Altar, think again. I was raised in Dearborn, Michigan and am well aware that Henry Ford, who also lived in Dearborn, was an anti-Semite with a group of like-minded friends that included George Booth (who built Cranbrook), Charles Lindbergh (I went to Lindbergh Elementary School), and Hitler, to name a few  you’d be familiar with. Was Asplund an anti-Semite too?

I think it would be safe to say that the similarities and influences of these projects are quite obvious. Isn’t it? All of this having been said, note that The Woodland Crematorium is (I repeat) a crematorium. Given the time period, world politics, and architectural influences, I’d say the Nazi-inspired design is completely inappropriate.

What’s your take on this?

  • Read about the special exhibition of the Pergamon – home to powerful kings and a glittering metropolis that Hitler was inspired by, it is currently at the Museum Island Berlin till September 2012.
  • To learn more about Zeppelin Field see Nuremberg Municipal Museums, which manage all of Nuremberg, Germany’s museums including the Documentation Centre Nazi Party Rally Gounds.
  • To visit beautiful Cranbrook in Bloomfield Hills, Michigan and to tour the house, gardens, and Greek Theater where George Booth lived and entertained his friends, as well as view the peristyle at the Cranbrook Academy of Art, see here.

Skogskyrkogarden Portico courtesy of Hassan Bagheri.

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6 Responses to 

Three Buildings With One Singular Message

  1. avatar Liz says:

    Really interesting– it might be that certain architects are simply following trends in architecture and were a product of their time, rather than adherents to Nazism– but it’s definitely worth examining and maybe redesigning some of these buildings!

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  2. avatar Rico says:

    The visual language is certainly a compelling argument. As an architect I’m aware of how we digest other architectural projects like most people eye food plates on other tables at restaurants. The time line works but I wonder who out there knows more about Asplund and his agenda?

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  3. avatar Kristen says:

    …interesting theory, though I’m not sure I agree with all your points. I think one of the most awful, fascist-style designs I’ve seen in a long, long time is the (fairly) new WWII Memorial on the National Mall. yikes! (and ugh!)

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  4. avatar Suzette Sherman says:


    I agree that the WW2 memorial has a fascist edge to the architectural elements – an overt one at that. I suspect that architects have such a love affair with modernism that they are unable to get past the pretty facade to see a design for what it is. Modernism was born out of fascism. It can be difficult to imagine or easily forgotten how oppressive the 30’s and 40’s were. How easy it was for those who were wealthy and in power to do as they wished without the media and internet following their every move. We need to consider these implications.

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  5. avatar Terry j says:

    Looks scary to me and i’m not an architect. t. j.

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  6. avatar Allen says:

    I had no idea buildings could have a message from what they look like. Interesting, to say the least.

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