The Voice of Memory
A sound installation by Robin Winogrond, Landscape Architect. Urban Designer, Zurich.

“A creative discipline – such as architecture, art, or landscape architecture –  should be understood first and foremost as a “storytelling medium”… about ourselves, who we are, who we were, who we might be in the future, what we think, how we relate to one another”
Jefferey Kipnis. Ambiguous Territories

Walking through a city should be an invitation to engage with, participate in and reflect upon the richness it holds. To this aim, how can we enable public space as storyteller of significant moments, to enrich our lives and cities with its presence? When the history of a given public space revolves around collective trauma what might be an appropriate design language with which to engage as many users as possible in the discourse, not with guilt or fear but curiosity and reflection, even joy? How can such spaces allow direct, self-appropriating access to the experience of place, in its multi-faceted dasein, above and beyond conventional languages of memorials and signage?

On the public entrance plaza to the former Nazi Military Base “Grossdeutschland” in Heidelberg, a new plaza design and sound installation reframes and recodes on-site artifacts of 85 years of military occupation, from the Nazi regime to the re-named U.S. Military Base Campbell Barracks and European Nato Military Headquarters. The design offers a unique, provocative, and innovative approach to re-reading and experiencing history in public space. Original acoustic fragments challenge the traditional reading of official historical narratives, collective memory and individual experience, Viewers are offered a personal and associative experience with the complexity of the place, invited to reflect on and renew their relationship to the monumental military events that reshaped Europe’s recent past.

In real life, military and everyday life cannot be separated. The recordings offer a point of entry into the world view of those in military power, their instrumentalization of acoustic propaganda media and daily sounds encountered by society and soldiers alike. Over three hours of sound create acoustic portraits structured into four historical periods – war, post-war, cold war and post cold war – from the dictatorship of the Nazis, through the populist yet authoritarian voice of the American Military, to critical reflections of the cold war and finally the individualistic society of the post-cold war era. Woven with popular German and American period music such as schlager, Bob Dylan, Nina Hagen, and Lile Marlene, sound fragments span from Hitler’s announcement of a new world time order, the Nuremberg Trials, on site Communist bombings, evening news, philosophical and political radio broadcasts, Ronald Reagen, and social protests.

The encounter with this space of memory not only contributes towards bridging the gap between an official historical script and collective memory but represents a rare chance for public and individual appropriation of history – to sensitize us to the manipulability of collective memory, to reinstate an organic connection to past, present and future. It is intended to engage a dialogue with school classes, tourists, historians, politicians, urbanists, universities, and residents of all ages.

The spatial and atmospheric backdrop to the piece is made up of on-site historical artifacts formerly used for military power and control which have been recycled, reinterpreted, and re-coded into elements of social encounter. Set against the powerful architectural facade of the Nazi’s main building decorated with soldier reliefs, an overflow of surveillance cameras, loudspeakers and lighting masts are stuffed together to create a surrealistic sculptural setting, becoming messengers of storytelling. Signage found on site, in German and English, display military and daily life.

Two large, carved stone eagles still mark the entrance to the military base. The innocent eagle, once a symbol for Germany, was taken over to symbolize the Nazi Regime. The new plaza enters into dialogue with the stone birds. Birds’ nests are hung on the masts, the free song of the birds purposely confronting the stone “Nazi Regime Eagles”. The bird’s nests stand for the re-coding of military power into a democratic world view while looking towards a new ecological approach to urbanism. The controlling station originally on the Campbell Barracks Checkpoint is decontextualized, standing as a defuncted and eery sculpture.

The context of the installation is still under construction. “The Voice of Memory” is embedded within the new park and ongoing renovation of the former Campbell Barracks. The winning entry for an international, two-phase competition by IBA Heidelberg (International Building Exposition) was designed and realized 2017-2022 by Robin Winogrond for and with Studio Vulkan.

Design, research, sound design and realization: Robin Winogrond
Sound Designer: Jonas Weber, Biel CH
Acoustic Engineering: Simon Schär, Varia Instruments, Bern CH
Historical Research: Mathias Kohler, Heidelberg DE
Film: Retina Fabrik, Berlin

Location: Campbell Barracks, Römerstrasse. Heidelberg, Germany

Design year: 2021 – 2022

Year Completed: 2023


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