Distantly echoing Buckminster Fuller’s 1960 proposal for a geodesic dome to roof Midtown Manhattan–though drastically reduced to the scale of a single-family house–a glass pavilion on the grounds of Kamp Westerbork now caps the residence of the last commandant in charge of the Netherlands based transit camp. Corralled here during the Second World War were those deemed undesirable by the occupying forces–Romani and Jews, among others–prior to being deported to the many concentration camps across Europe. Built in 1939, the wood-shingled house is the only remnant of Kamp Westerbork still standing in its entirety; it is invested with all the history, horror and meaning that colours this dark chapter in Dutch history. After winning a competition for a glass cover, Oving Architekten is responsible for the design and realization of the pavilion.
The house and the original yard that still surrounds it are not publicly accessible, but the pavilion is opened for special events. Curiously, the outermost shell enables visual permeability while simultaneously denying direct access to what’s inside the glass display case. Oving’s intervention allows the building it’s meant to conserve to decay naturally, as the pavilion is ventilated. It protects the house from exterior elements without fully removing it from their grasp. On a day far in the future, the structure may crumble, but until that time the pavilion adds new meaning to the commandant’s quarters by questioning what constitutes cultural heritage: the house, the pavilion or the memories? Now that the house has been capped, it has also been removed from daily use, leaving a synthesis of house and pavilion to define the site and harbour the memories.
At the rear of the pavilion, an extension clad in Corten steel accommodates service areas for events, which take place in the yard at the back of the house. ‘We needed a fireproof material for this volume, and Corten steel makes a subtle contrast to both glass and surrounding trees,’ says Mikkel Ryberg of Oving Architekten. The pavilion abuts a wooded area, and a material palette that combines clear tranquil glass with opaque steel balances the prominence of the new shell with the parallel ambiguity of the house within. Oving eerily celebrates the site’s storied past while preserving an object that will remain of interest for generations to come.