An innovative pop-up synagogue in Ukraine pays tribute to Jewish communities

The pop-up design of a synagogue in Ukraine commemorating Second World War massacres is an unconventional take on how monuments can honour the past.

Designed by Swiss architecture studio Manuel Herz Architects for the Babyn Yar Holocaust Memorial Center, the building stands in the Ukrainian region of Babyn Yar, west of Kyiv.

In 1941, the area saw approximately 300,000 Jews shot and killed by Nazi troops in one of the Holocaust’s bloodiest massacres. The project’s design seeks to serve as a memorial of the tragedy, with its unfoldable structure symbolically representing the act of a community gathering for a religious service.

While not in use, the building stands as a flat, 11-metre tall vertical structure. When the congregation comes together, the timber and steel structure unfolds into a three-dimensional space. The act of “unfolding” the synagogue manually, without the support of a motor, represents the renaissance of the local community, according to the architects.

“During the religious service, a congregation comes together to collectively read a book,” explains creative director, Ilya Khrzhanovsky. “The shared reading of the book opens a world of wisdom, morals, history, and anecdotes to the congregation.”

The building’s materials also reflect the area’s history. The synagogue was constructed using locally-sourced Ukrainian timber, while the colourful interiors are ornamented with prayers, blessings, and iconography inspired by the 17th and 18th century Ukrainian synagogues destroyed by Nazi troops. On the ceiling, religious symbols recreate the astrological constellation that was visible over Kyiv on the night of 29 September 1941, the day that the Babyn Yar massacre began.

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