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Ed McGurk of TECO Peoples Gas installs gas lamps on side of new Tampa Bay Holocaust Museum and Educational Center at First Avenue and Fifth Street S in St. Petersburg. There will be 11 lamps in all, six on one side and five on the other and will burn at all times in memory of those who died in Holocaust.
(Times photo / Fred Victorin)

Harsh angles,
by design

It is purposely stark, this place where visitors will learn about one of the darkest periods in history.

Nick Benjacob, architect of the Tampa Bay Holocaust Memorial Museum and Educational Center, wanted the physical building to convey a message. It is the reason he incorporated triangles as a recurring image in its design.

"The era of World War II is so depressing that I did not want to do anything with either circles or squares, because they are whole shapes," the Israeli-born architect said.

"I wanted a broken shape. A triangle is a suppressing shape, it is a hard shape, and I wanted to design a feeling for the visitors before they even entered the museum."

Its two main entrances are triangular, a theme carried out on the museum's exterior wall. There hang 11 triangles, each of which will carry a perpetually burning gas lamp in memory of the 11-million victims of the Holocaust.

The architect's harsh angles are continued throughout the center.

"Everything is working on those sharp angles for the sharpness of this message," he said.

On the second floor, a rust red Bridge of Unity joins two balconies. Its railings -- one 8 feet high, the other 6 feet -- evoke the forbidding double fences of the concentration camps.

The stairway nearby, also rust red, a color similar to the center's boxcar exhibit, also is symbolic. Each steel step, from the first floor's historical presentation to the artistic interpretations on the second story, is triangular in shape. The stairway itself also is a triangle, wide at the bottom and narrow at the top.

"It is to make you feel constricted," Benjacob said. "But the design of the stairs and bridge is also very modern. It's our future."

To the architect, who lost relatives in the Holocaust, even the harshness of the triangle can be softened.

"The juxtaposition of the triangle is a message of hope," he said. "Like praying hands."

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