When architecture critic Chris Barton was confronted by the massive Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe in the heart of Berlin with his partner Diana Wichtel, author of Driving to Treblinka, it was forgetting that caused him to make a mistake. This was the beginning of a journey of encounter with challenging, often controversial, architecture including the tiny Stolpersteine (stumbling stones) on the footpaths of Berlin; the array of remembering and symbolism at Yad Vashem and the authentic sites of mass murder – Auschwitz, Birkenau and Treblinka. Along the way he confronts the submerged memory of his family heritage.

This Ockham lecture is a foray into memorial ground and denial: the debate about American architect Peter Eisenman’s 2,711 stelae and its adjacent row of restaurants and postcard shops known in the German press as “Holocaust Beach”; whether it’s appropriate at such a site to play hide-and-seek and jump from stele to stele; and the arguments about dark tourism and selfies. It asks how architecture can be harnessed to address historical - and family - amnesia.


Chris Barton is an architecture critic and award-winning journalist who has combined his journalism and architectural training (MArch, 1985) with architectural education since 2012. He teaches part-time at the Auckland School of Architecture and, since 2013, has been the architecture critic for Metro magazine and written features about architecture for the New Zealand Listener, Metro and Paperboy. He has 30 years’ experience in newspapers and magazines including 15 years at the New Zealand Herald where he worked as senior feature writer and technology columnist.  A press fellowship in 2010 to Wolfson College, Cambridge enabled him to research architectural writing in mainstream media.  His research interests are: the portrayal of architecture in mainstream print and TV media; teaching design research; writing in architectural practice; and the architecture of Holocaust memorial.

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Berlin Memorial. Image courtesy: Chris Barton

Treblinka Memorial. Image courtesy: Chris Barton

Birkenau Barracks. Image courtesy: Chris Barton