"Building Up in Flames" : Remembering Solingen through Forensic Architectural Redrawing

For :

CFP (Joseph Twist, Editor; 2022) / "Kunstszene gegen rechte Szene" : Cultural Responses to the Far-Right in Reunified Germany

Fig 1 – the destroyed Genç family home after the arson attack in spring of 1993 (James)
Fig 2a – the empty lot where the Genç house once stood (Black)
The arson attack on the Genç home occurred in the early morning of May 29th, 1993 in Solingen, North Rhine-Westphalia, when a group of four young men set the home ablaze, killing five and maiming fourteen of its residents. (Fig 1) As an act of racist terrorism, the Solingen arson represented the diverging realities of majority and minority groups through policy-driven and geographical dislocations, separating an ethnonational German identity from a diasporic Turkish one; as author Zafer Şenocak pinpoints, the diaspora represented “the test cases for the limits of Germanness.” (Şenocak qt. in Huyssen) The reunification of East and West Germany in 1990 confronted the ethno-cultural plurality of its present and the disturbing history of its past, and the Solingen attack epitomized a distinct period when architecture simultaneously represented the construction and erasure of collective memory; from the 1990s and into the 2000s, the nation, on one hand, emphasized Holocaust remembrance as an aspect of German identity by cementing memorials[1] while, on the other, “Germanness” also incited several racist arson attacks, one destroying the Genç home. To this day there does not exist a critical remembrance of the arson attack; one is a memorial sculpture designed to erase a dismantled swastika – ignoring a past and present still scared by xenophobia and racism – (fig 3), and the other is a small commemoration plaque that sits beside the Genç’s empty lot next to the neighbour’s garbage cans. (Fig 2a, fig 2b) ​​​​​​​
Fig 2b – the memorial plaque, Gedenktafel Brandanschlag Solingen, of the five lost in the arson attack (Black)
Fig 3 – The memorial statue, Mahnmal zum Gedenken an den Brandanschlag auf die Familie Genç, depicts the stacking of rings to obfuscate a dismantled Swastika. (Vincentz)
The Solingen attack as a case study emphasizes why and how architects should memorialize. By rebuffing the ahistorical nostalgic retellings of violence embedded in the two Solingen memorials, a new remembrance, entitled “Building Up in Flames”, combats memory degradation and counter-conceptions of the attack. The research project used the medium of architectural drawing, coined as “redrawing”, to reconstruct the house, the signified loss, and engage the arson’s factual indices. (Fig 4a) For example, typological documentation of similar houses and available televised b-roll video from news organizations were forensically analysed to re-concretize the house; however, its architectural plans and elevations proposed an honest but approximate reconstruction, which exemplifies not only the annihilation of the house and its inhabitants but also the obfuscation of its eschatological effect: the loss of body within time. A building is a projection of its inhabitant, and its destruction is synonymous with the body’s phenomenological and corporeal obliterations. (Vidler, Malabou) Within a reconstructed psychoanalytic space, “Building Up in Flames” negotiates memory and destruction by acknowledging the perpetuation of violence across time. The work smuggles memory within the reappearance of violence—enlivening memory within time itself. The project’s final culminating “redrawings” montage photographic keyframes across a time scale to situate remembrance within the interim or Zwischenzeit (directly translated as “between-time”) of the attack. The research project rejects the acontextuality of the current Solingen memorials to instead invigorate their necessity therefore empowering architecture itself.

[1] Namely, Peter Eisenman’s “Memorial for the Murdered Jews of Europe” in 2005 and Daniel Libeskind’s “Jewish Heritage Museum” in 2001 exemplify this period for memorials in Germany.
Fig 4a – Facades and Plans of the Genç House. Digital drawing with collage, 2019.

part i – labour policy, memory, and the culmination of may 29th, 1993

Prior to the fall of the Berlin Wall on November 9, 1989, Germany engaged labour policy to eradicate migrant enclaves and erase ethnically-neutral political constructions of belonging, but its labour policies also presented a challenge to the meaning of a unified, ethnonational homeland. After World War II, West Germany was suffering from a labour shortage and in response, Turkish guest workers became an integral part of country’s workforce. But the country forcibly positioned foreign workers in a temporal limbo and spatial void within the host society, which later incited a burgeoning xenophobic temperament among the German population. The 1965 Foreigner Law, Ausländergesetz, made the legal status of foreign workers less secure by requiring them to hold a valid visa while they continue to serve “the needs of the Federal Republic”. (Göktürk et al. 10) Additionally, local politicians and German residents deemed certain neighbourhoods uninhabitable for “native” Berliners, which relegated foreigners to substandard[2] cramped apartments in neighbourhoods like Kreuzberg and Neukölln and further isolated the Turkish diaspora from other communities. (Akcan 212) Many newspapers and magazines created immense discord by publishing sensational reports on the foreign labour movement to cast a negative light on new arrivals.[3] Disparities caused by social separation and physical distance created two realities, one lived by the nation’s citizens and the other by its “guests”. (Mandel 28) By the summer of 1990, the revised Foreigner Law proposed naturalization[4] for foreign workers, but only if they “give up or lose [their] previous nationality”, (Ausländergesetz 160) exemplifying that government labour policy into the 1990s was the dominant arbiter of two diverging realities: nation and diaspora. (Weissner 162) 

Not only did labour policy cement the socio-economic and spatial marginalization of foreigners, but it also uncovered questions about the German identity, East or West. The landscape of autochthony was unmade by tectonic shifts in the conception of modernity, some of which undermined rather than uplifted German labourers. To make such topographical and geopolitical features clear in the division of East and West Germany, residency – by way of labour visas for both countries – did not lead to true acceptance into mainstream society. The expression of a “static notion of identity” of migrant workers or any Ausländer*in, Flüchtling, or Gastarbeiter*in remained in the provincial collective mindset of the host country; and consequently, such expressions of migrant identity were instilled with caricatures of those who stayed alienated on the spatial and temporal margins of society. (Peck 8) The inhospitable and unsafe living conditions endured by guest workers exemplified the country’s attitude and anxiety about the status of guest workers in German society. The lack of mutual assimilation within society allowed the power of the “host” to define the “guest” in media, legislation, and personal interactions, creating two distinct collective memories. The congruencies of ethnonational identity, language, and culture characterized the German collective memory as a homogenous whole, underpinned by a shared history and physical territory. The drive towards homogeneity within German collective memory contrasts with its minority populations: diasporic memory hinges on the nature of geographical dislocation, and to remember means to focus on the loss rather than the perpetual renewal of identity, safeguarding rather than evolving.[5] (Huyssen 151) ForWest and East Germany, socio-economic rigidity and domestic, ideological renewal did not leave space for negotiating the adjacency of the other’s existence or the entanglements of a collective memory that come with it.

These dividing constructions of remembrance, foregrounded by a static notion of identity and one’s sensed experience, promoted a singular, simplistic, and coherent nationhood physically separate from diasporic existence. Zafer Şenocak, in Atlas of a Tropical Germany, uncovers the paradigmatic disillusionment among Turkish-Germans by way of the divergence of two parallel existences: those at the centre and those at the periphery. In “What Does the Forest Dying Have to Do with Multiculturalism?”, Şenocak draws comparisons between biological and cultural diversity. Discussing the spatial ramifications of diversity in cities, he asserts, “the majority of the centre distances from the margin. The minority of the centre identifies with this distance.” (27) As predominately guided by capital, the centripetal and centrifugal forces of a city[6] provide an explanation for the minority-majority and periphery-centre relationships. The domination of a racial majority at the centre exists at the helm of economic exchange and subsequently guides labour policy that extracts human capital from outside the topographical borders of the city and state. Using its power to define the centre, the majority enlists minority populations at the periphery to support the majority’s tenets. Beyond socioeconomic dislocation, dual realities exist to reframe physical boundaries as ones of intensified dissimilarities of identity and reinforced power constructs. Şenocak adds that “in both cases the participants take as their point of departure the illusion that their respective identities are unbroken and easily distinguished from each other” and concludes that “the agenda comes not to recognize this minority but to expel it.” (29) The propulsion of further fragmentation between the “majority” and “minority” becomes one of crude caricature. This simplification promotes a single idea of the reality and the identity. The hierarchical, centripetal nature of urbanized society – a city, commensalistic, parasitic, or otherwise – effected the expulsion of the “exotic”, those cast behind the tangible topographies and supposed cultural walls.

During this period of post-1989 turbulence, xenophobic and racist attacks revealed a social consciousness that had yet to productively mediate the changing ethno-cultural landscape constricted within the country’s reconfigured borders. This superimposition of the presence and parallelism of lives, Turkish, German, or otherwise, encapsulates the experience of alienation caused by the political agenda of the late twentieth century, which was defined by its economic mobilization of human capital and inherently exploitative policy. Exemplifying this superimposition and eventual ethno-nationalist violence, Solingen, North Rhine-Westphalia Germany, also known as Klingenstadt or “city of knives”, manufactured small metalcraft accessories, representing a blue-collar town in economic transition in the 1990s. One of many residences within a racially mixed neighbourhood of Turkish and ethnonational Germans, the Genç home at Untere Wernerstaße 81 backed onto a large park and was close to downtown, a 25-minute walk north. This quaint image would erupt when on May 29th, 1993, a group of four young men from ages 16 to 23 belonging to the far-right skinhead movement set the house ablaze by dousing the front entrance. The fire quickly engulfed the freestanding building while Mevlüde Genç, the 50-year-old family matriarch, climbed out of a window to alert neighbours of the impeding danger to her family still trapped inside; however, there would be five causalities in the attack. Gürsün İnce (age 27) jumped to her death to evade the lashing flames while holding her surviving daughter in her arms. Saime Genç (age 4), Hüyla Genç (age 9), Gülüstan Öztürk (age 12), and Hatice Genç (age 18) later died within the house. The arson attack also caused fourteen non-fatal injuries, including several children who sustained life-threatening burns. The four defendants were Felix Köhnen (age 16), Christina Reher (age 16), Christian Buchholz (age 19), and Markus Gartmann (age 23) and were found guilty of murder, attempted murder, and arson. Three of the four men were sentenced as minors and faced a maximum sentence of ten years while the lone adult faced fifteen years in prison. (Cowell, Davis) To dispel the seriousness of their xenophobic violence, they claimed that late-night partying and drinking led them to “frighten” some Turks on a whim, but this attack would spark a nationwide candlelight vigil to the victims of hatred propagated by the 6,500 documented skinheads[7] and those complacent in xenophobia and racism in the new Germany of the 1990s.

[2] Many buildings were deserted post-War constructions without functional toilets or running water. Esra Akcan’s, Open Architecture, paints a descriptive and powerful picture of the IBA-Altbau renovation projects in the 1980s and the diverging parallel realities between the Turkish and West German populations.

[3] Der Spiegel published many prodding articles: one titled “Die Türken kommen: Rette sich wer kann”, “The Turks Are Coming! Save Yourself If You Can!” (Der Spiegel 110) The 1973 article touts that any more foreigners arriving in the country promoted the growing ghettos. Der Spiegel later claims within the sensationalist article that, “‘If someone is stabbed,’ says a northern German police commissioner, ‘a Turk is usually involved’”. Articles, such as the one published by the popular German magazine, only further segregated the perception of Turks from their relative guest worker policies. 

[4] The law proposed that Germany extends naturalization to those between the ages of 16 and 23 or those with consistent residency within the territory for at least 15 years. The hard line on dual citizenship placed long-term guest workers in a precarious social position; many Turkish families considered loved ones who had given up their Turkish passport as “the lost [relatives] of the family”. (Wernicke 159)

[5] Huyssen’s article “Diaspora and Nation: Migration Into Other Pasts” furthers the brief argument above with insight into the entanglement of nostalgia, history, and memory as a critical dimension of the evolution of nationhood. 

[6] See Albert Pope’s Ladders on the topic of centrifugal and centripetal forces in shaping accretional urban growth. 

[7] The Federal Office for the Protection of the Constitution produced this figure in the article “Hate in Solingen,” “Hass in Solingen, Zum zwiefachen Heern- und Untermenschentum,” in the feminist journal EMMA in So sehe ich das!: Über die Auswirkung von Macht und Gewalt auf Frauen und andere Menschen. (Schwarzer 129-131)

part ii – obliteration, fragmentation, and the negation of memory, body, and building

When the Wall fell dissipating the Soviet control of East Germany at the end of 1989, arson attacks represented the symbolic hijacking, destructive erasure, and innocuous misdirection of an impaired post-unification German consciousness.[8] National prevailing over diasporic identity revealed the discordance in the establishment of collective memory after the Wende. For example, in embedding Holocaust memory into the German conscious, “Jews trying to come to terms with their Germanness,” Şenocak pinpoints, “discover the Turks in the mirror.” (Şenocak qt. in Huyssen 158). The Turkish diaspora and other minority groups represent a barrier to resolving an imperfect, racist past and acknowledging an ethnically diverse future. As a reaction to the identity vacuum, the far-right erased the other’s existence to produce an antimemory of a plural reality. Antimemory, like that of the counter factual, corporeally and figuratively shattered the reflection of a diasporic existence – house by home, body by being – to eliminate the complexity of a newly misplaced German identity in the twilight of the twentieth century. 

Arson, a synecdoche for pain and violence, was used as a form of erasure because the image of the burning house – the eruption of flame from rooftop – signifies a more tangible erasure than that of burning flesh. The house’s annihilation is a spectacle, and its absence along a repetitive streetscape is impactful. However, the destruction of the house does not only erase the building, rather the building is the vessel of the body, and the destruction of the Genç house signifies the expulsion of their bodily existence. There is an adamantine relationship between bodies and buildings, each responding to the other’s annihilations. The burning house is the postmodern signifier of the burning body. Within postmodern discourse and outlined in “The Building in Pain”, Anthony Vidler argues for the unity of being and building and the further obliteration of both through the acknowledgment of a projected building-body animism. Not only is the body-house relationship a matter of object surrogates, like a baby is to a womb, but this link also encapsulates the attack on the labour migrant through the elimination of the incubator – the house – of other human life. Especially evident in the post-war period, the necessity of the building-body projection and the realization of this corporeal translation are dependent on the knowledge of a future uncoupling by the loss of either the building or the body, “my body is everywhere: the bomb which destroys my house also damages my body insofar as the house was already an indication of my body.” (Satre qt. in Vidler 9) Body and house exist in tandem by an ingrained object surrogacy, and that possible untethering hinges on one’s understanding of one’s own corporeal ephemerality: “we are precipitated into a world of absolute danger, and at the same time made to understand that this threat exists only insofar as we are in this world.” (Vidler 9) To commit arson describes, in one dimension, the desire to eradicate plurality within German consciousness and create a homogenized national reunion but, in another dimension, to commit arson reveals perpetrators’ understanding of the ephemerality of bodily existence – the remembrance of bodies within time itself – and the material reality of Germany’s urbanized landscapes.

The loss of body through geographical dislocation, as referenced by Şenocak, and body-building annihilation reiterates a modern tragedy of a further reliance on homogeneity for formulating a German identity dissociated from the plurality of contemporary society. Vidler identifies this preoccupation with the loss of body in the thinking of both Kant and the German Romantics: “the body became an object for nostalgia rather than a model of harmony. In art and criticism, it was manifested more as a series of unreconcilable fragments.” (7) Exemplifying tragedy in the Romantic sublime, the collective consciousness fetishizes the loss of being; in turn, society nostalgically reconstructs this fragmentation of the noumenon (the building and body) despite the inherent distance from that loss. Jacques Lacan gave a psychoanalytic explanation of the distanciation of ontological recollection. Tracing back to a pre-mirror-stage body, corps morceléreferences the infantile phantasm of body to mirror spatial identification created by the body’s disassociation within space. Literally translated as “morcellated body”, the mirror stage in psychoanalysis demonstrates a return to an infant-like state that illustrates the inability to cognitively recognize what is reflected. (8) The arson not only obliterated the inhabitant and house, but also represented the shattering of Lacan and Şenocak’s metaphorical mirrors: as a psychoanalytic and bodily morcellation of victim and perpetrator. In erasing the perpetrator’s own reflection (coming “to terms with their Germanness” by means of arson), their self-identification is destroyed—producing an infantile state of disassociating the outcome of violence from renewal of identity. This double fragmentation, the loss of body and perpetrator’s disassociation from hatred, furthers the inability to remember and reflect beyond the Romanticized loss and modern tragedy of untethering building from body. 

For the Genç’s home, the morcellation of body and building and the memory of its before and after states are posed against the unstoppable, destructive plasticity of time. Catherine Malabou’s essay on destructive plasticity outlines the shaping of memory and space as an unredeemable condition. “Plastic”, she argues, does not truly define the being of change, rather “plasticity” refers to being “irreversible [such that] a return to the initial form is impossible.” (36) Destructive plasticity furthers the argument that the fragmentation of the body can never and will never return to its former state. Destructive plasticity is not only the description of ephemerality, the understanding of time, but rather the understanding of the futility of time and therefore the limits of memory recognition. The Genç house will never exist in physical form again, and where it does exist, such as in the minds of those who once lived there, it will continue to degrade. The house receives another annihilation, an annihilation that is obfuscated in the mind’s eye of the individuals related to the crime as both victims and perpetrators. The plasticity of the memory of the attack illustrates memory’s depreciation of its actors and the fallibility of collective remembrance within its observers over time.

Collective consciousness further falters as society exists exterior to the production of loss. The inability to empathize is, as Malabou interprets from Freud’s “Die Verneinung”, the logical negativity of an individual’s distanciative judgment through his or her own spatial exteriority: “the logical function of judgement is dual: attribution (an attribution judgement states that an attribute or property belongs to an object) and existence (the judgement decides whether such and such a thing exists or not in reality).” (80) Dual judgment indicates that the witness is the arbiter of the attribute, i.e., the existence of loss, and this exteriority certifies the indices of tragedy without the tangibility of loss. Such exteriority will inherently exclude, negate, or augment the indices of the arson attack because of the society’s own inherent alienation; Freud equates exteriority to rejection: “what is bad, what is alien to the ego and what is external are, to begin with, identical.” (“Die Verneinung” 237) To this end, the witness will always confirm what they know to be good and reject what they believe to be bad. The dissociative state of logical negativity will always hinder the total conception of the arson attack on May 29th, 1993, and consequently, the collective memory inevitably yields into partiality, sentimentality, and ultimately, nostalgia. ​​​​​​​

[8] Besides the 1993 Solingen arson attack, other xenophobic attacks using fire as a means of destroying buildings housing migrants include Hoyerswerda in 1991, Mölln in 1992, and Rostock-Lichtenhagen in 1992. 

part iii – memorials and (re)drawing​​​​​​​
Fig 2c – a close-up photo of the memorial plaque, Gedenktafel Brandanschlag Solingen, with fencing between the remaining foundations of the house and the sidewalk (Black)

To memorialize those lost in the arson attack, collective memory of the incident must survive its own temporal depreciation and logical negation. The destructive plasticity of memory illustrates that both the trauma of victimhood and the nostalgia of observation will lead to an antimemory – a counter-conception – of the incident. For this reason, the two existing memorials struggle to establish a meaningful act of remembrance. Travelling along the Untere Wernerstaße, the only indication of the arson is the vacant lot where the Genç house once stood, and upon approaching the overgrown vegetation, momentarily confusing the vacant lot for a park, the rubble of the house’s foundation rest beyond the fences that carefully separate the outsider from the space of violence. The Gedenktafel Brandanschlag Solingen marks the only point of reference that this vacant lot belonged to a house and is best identified by looking for it next to the blue and yellow garbage bins of the next-door neighbour and crouching to read its fine print. (Fig 2b) The plaque includes the date, a list of those lost, and an acknowledgment in Turkish and German of the racism that perpetuated the attack. (Fig 2c) The question upon reading this is: Something happened here, but what really? This memorial lends itself to antimemory because the vacant lot, the intangibility of loss, gives way to the absence of memory itself within the collective consciousness. A non-memorial, the plaque neither fully explains nor emphatically expresses the loss of body in space, illustrating a further distanciation between the observer and the victim through the inability to recognize oneself in embodying loss. The house is unrecognizable: the inscription in bronze is a didactic cutaway to a time long ago. The vacant lot is cordoned off from the public: its empty space fills with counter-conceptions, alternative answers to the question one would pose.

The memorial, Mahnmal zum Gedenken an den Brandanschlag auf die Familie Genç, brings, on the contrary, a tangibility to violence by attributing the loss of space and body to false and confusing symbolism. (Fig 3) Erected in 1994, a pair of cartoonish figures pull apart a swastika. Encircling them are a series of stacked rings emblazoned with names, presumably of those residing in the town. The hundreds of rings collect to bury the pair as an intended representation that over generations racism will no longer persist. The confusing symbolism of the memorial brings up several questions: Is the swastika, which is a direct symbol for the Holocaust, appropriate or specific enough for understanding those lost in an arson attack? Would the rings, as more and more accumulate, not only erase the swastika, but also erase those seeking to dismantle it? Assuming the former is the intent of the sculpture, is the implication that, as the memorial grows, racist violence will be out of sight, long over, and ultimately forgotten in the mind’s eye? Should we expect a future without racism? Should we start forgetting? The sculpture, one intended to memorialize May 29th, 1993, should not mince its symbolism. Instead, it should directly engage the tangible indices of this particular attack as to evade counter-conceptions, confusion in interpretation, in memorializing loss. Currently, the sculpture is no longer added to because the stacking represents not only eradicating but also forgetting violence. (Das Solinger Mahnmal) The Mahnmal exists in a symbolic limbo, muddled and further weakened as time carries on.  

The Solingen memorials stand in stark contrast in their intentions, symbolism, and acknowledgments of the faculties of loss—what remains as tangible from violence. In retracing the event, these direct signifiers of loss are crucial for reconstructing memory, memory that challenges destructive plasticity and degradation over time. The principal signifier, most distinct in arson specifically, is the house itself; however, there is no sufficient architectural or photographic documentation of the Genç home either before or after the attack occurred, which erodes the engagement of the destroyed house as a direct signifier of hatred. Arguing for a critical memorial, architecture must reject collective ahistorical nostalgia and, instead, analytically reconstruct the temporal and physical space of destruction to better encapsulate its signifiers. A new memorial must argue for preserving the indices of violence in the interim or Zwischenzeitof loss. To solidify destruction and preserve it within time itself, Zwischenzeit opens the space between the before and the after of the event, a temporal space in which memory proliferates, augments, and solidifies. Plasticity, the formulation of memory in this crucial period – where buildings betray their bodies – encompasses the change of memory from person to demos. The plastic cognition and logical negativity of the before to the after, the interim of loss, is crucial when architecture must rebuff existing models of obtuse symbolism and voided spaces in memorials that allow for antimemory to obfuscate a critical engagement with violence. 

“Building Up in Flames” engages architecture – critical theory, measured analytical drawing, and typological research – to give a pertinency to remembrance that corrects antimemory and dispels the nostalgia of loss in the 28 years since the arson. Redrawings, the method of re-constructing a deconstructed, destroyed building, employ architecture through plan and elevation drawings through forensic methods. Knowledge of egress routes, materiality, and similar building typologies inform accurate reconstructions before flame and fire obliterated the site. (Fig 4a) The montaging of space across time through architectural projection and collage allows for an expression of remembrance that goes beyond before and after. Free from the destructive plasticity and logical negation, the redrawings preserve the memory of the attack by crystalizing the moment of the incident within time itself. (Fig 5a, 6a, 7a) In the Zwischenzeit, the utilization of architecture can not only reconstruct loss through measured, factual precision but also inspires remembrance beyond a built memorial to or signifier of that loss.  ​​​​​​​

Fig 4b – The initial sketch of Facades and Plans of the Genç House, 2019
Fig 4c – A still-frame of the attic space captured from a user-uploaded video (MrMarxismo)

A forensic investigation of available media documentation was paramount in redrawing the facades and plans of the house as well as reconstructing the interior domestic spaces (fig 4a); first-person accounts, made-for-TV documentaries, and b-roll video from news outlets were primary sources for examining the Zwischenzeit state of formal, bodily, and spatial annihilation. It became compulsory to annotate sketches of and hypothesize about the original construction of the home in found media stills and photographs. (Fig 4b) The act of re-drawing raised questions about the exact window location and stair type, the material composition of the timber frame and masonry structure, and the room configuration within the house. (Fig 1) For example, news footage of a room depicts light entering from the ceiling, which illustrates that this particular space was on the attic level and therefore directly under the destroyed roof. As further evidenced, this footage indicated the other details of the space, such as the configuration of the brick load-bearing walls, which, most crucially, would be identically configured on each of the other floors—answering questions of room locations on subsequent levels. (Fig 4c) The façades of the house are most accurately depicted because of the abundant images of the exterior immediately after the attack and its eventual demolition days later. Unfortunately, the back façade of the house could not be generated because of the lack of precise evidence, which raised an important question: should the missing information be reconstructed? Refusing to do so expressed a necessary historical and political context in the project revealing that the destruction caused by the arson at that time was not properly interrogated or persevered, allowing for nostalgia to proliferate.

Fig 4e – Kit house example in Solingen (Black)
Fig 4f – Example of kit house blueprint details, sections, elevations, and plans (Raymond)

In addition to photography and video, the reconstructions rely on other visual media, such as typological drawings and real estate listings of identical ready-cut houses within the town of Solingen. The plan drawings are difficult to entirely reconstruct, since program details (kitchen placement, number of bedrooms) are left out of residents’ interviews, or the interviews exposed factual incongruencies in written reporting among news outlets. (“Germans Sentenced in Arson Killing of Turks”, “Germany’s Shameful Xenophobic Attack”) In the instances of competing information, redrawing relied on an external analysis of building typologies to reconfigure the exact placement of the central staircase and the plumbed rooms. The work of photographers Bernd and Hilla Becher detail a similar typological analysis in their project Framework Houses.  The visual survey documents the typology of framework houses in the Siegen region in Germany and exemplifies the possibility of redrawing through the identification of a vernacular typology of buildings. An analysis of similar kit houses in the town of Solingen reveals a bizarre uncanniness to the nostalgic preservation of the attack; the Genç house was most likely a ready-cut house (also known as catalogue, kit, or mail-order home) as there are several nearly identical constructions within Solingen. (Fig 4e) After studying similar kit house blueprints, the reconstructions deduce that the circulation stair was a quarter-turn stair which allowed for the fire to spread vertically through an open airway. As triangulated from the location of the collapsed roof, the stair must have been adjacent to the front entrance, where the fire started and spread upwards. (Fig 4f) This typological finding is eerie when touring the town of Solingen; like living ghosts, the Genç house, missing from its empty lot on Untere Wernerstraße, rematerializes along other residential streets. (Fig 2, fig 4e)

The remaining redrawings reconstruct three distinct acts of the arson’s destruction: dematerialization, defenestration, and destruction of objects, bodies, and space. Collaging still images from primary source media and utilizing measured architectural drawing, the redrawings re-enact the destruction of May 29th to depict an honest cognition, unobstructed by nostalgia. These three redrawings depict a space within the mere 8-minutes of the attack which closes the gap between exterior and interior – observer and victim – at the onset of memory’s destructive plasticity. The first of this series illustrate a bathtub that was catapulted from the top story when flames disintegrated the interior structure and the surrounding floor. When the fire spread through the stair’s vertical core, the bathtub, which was probably in a second-story bathroom adjacent to the crumbling stairway, eventually collapsed through the floor to block the secondary entrance at the lower level. This was deduced from a 6-second camera pan depicting the bathtub distressingly perched on the basement steps. (Fig 5c) The bathtub, a vessel to hold water and cleanse the body, is cruelly inverted. Instead, it becomes an object to trap those escaping from the flames. (Fig 5a, 5b). 

Fig 5a – Bathtub. Digital drawing with collage, 2019.
Fig 5a – Bathtub. Digital drawing with collage, 2019.
Fig 5b – The initial sketch of Bathtub
Fig 5b – The initial sketch of Bathtub
Fig 5c – The still-frame used to compose Bathtub (MrMarxismo)
Fig 5c – The still-frame used to compose Bathtub (MrMarxismo)
A building in pain is a synecdoche for anti-human violence. The Genç home was attacked at its mouth; arsonists taking containers of petrol unleashed the initial fire onto the main entrance. The arson attack lacerated the building’s exterior skin of masonry cladding and dislocated its timber framed bones. Flames rose within the throat of the main circulation route of the central interior staircase unbeknownst to the perpetrators and victims. As an autopsy of the attack, news media were allowed into certain preserved rooms the morning after. (Fig 6c) In the second redrawing, one room, a children’s bedroom adjacent to a family living room, reveals personal effects left nearly preserved between the before and after of the attack. Architecture as an adamantine projection of the body proposes that memory can be suspended within the interim of violence, the two temporal states of pre- and post-obliteration. (Fig 6a, 6b) 

Fig 6a – Bedroom and Living Room. Digital drawing with collage, 2019..
Fig 6a – Bedroom and Living Room. Digital drawing with collage, 2019..
Fig 6b – The initial sketch of Bedroom and Living Room, 2019
Fig 6b – The initial sketch of Bedroom and Living Room, 2019
Fig 6c – The still-frame used to compose Bedroom and Living Room (MrMarxismo)
Fig 6c – The still-frame used to compose Bedroom and Living Room (MrMarxismo)

The building engulfed in flames further betrayed its body in a matter of minutes by trapping residents inside the top floor dwelling space. Gürsün İnce, while carrying her child, defenestrated a chair to separate herself from her home by breaking the windowpane and ejecting herself in a desperate but deadly escape. The chair, now seen broken below the attic window, is left among the rubble where Ms. İnce’s body and her living daughter were found. (Fig 7c) The future remembrance placard would be placed next to the same trashcans. (Fig 2b) Gürsün’s child survives because of the sacrifice of mother and building, the human and metaphorical mother figures. This last redrawing reiterates that the coupling of body and building is an adamantine force: the body exists insofar as its shelter still stands, the child must survive beyond its mother. (Fig 7a, 7b)

Fig 7a – Chair. Digital drawing with collage, 2019.
Fig 7a – Chair. Digital drawing with collage, 2019.
Fig 7b – The initial sketch of Chair, 2019
Fig 7b – The initial sketch of Chair, 2019
Fig 7c – The still-frame used to compose Chair (MrMarxismo)
Fig 7c – The still-frame used to compose Chair (MrMarxismo)

Although accurate to the found visual media, the work ultimately produces a version of the house before the arson; however, this version, which is produced through forensic analysis and rigorous study, negates the mythical sensationalism of tragedy by reconstructing the actual space of loss. The redrawings investigate the event, often seen as a spectacle over significance, and critically encapsulate the ideological signifiers and contextual causes of body-building annihilation (labour policy research, diaspora and memory discourse, architectural theory). The 1993 Solingen arson represents one of many similar attacks in the 1990s in Germany, capstoning a century of brutality with another spell of violence. The repetition of hate reinforces a disheartening infinity of racism and xenophobia that culminates in tragedy time and time again. In negotiating the recurrence of violence, “Building Up in Flames” reimagines the Zwischenzeit, the moment of loss, in using the power of architecture which is both precise in its (re)construction and ephemeral in its deconstruction. These two duelling states, built and destroyed, enable architecture to critically memorialize by resolving the oblivion that hatred creates and suspending an existence of that memory in between-time.

Although “Building Up in Flames” uses the medium of forensic drawing and collage and does not engage in built architecture, the project implores architects and those who memorialize to confront the fragility and plasticity of memory and critically examine nostalgia and didacticism in memorials. The two memorials in Solingen may only represent a fraction of the violence that has been perpetuated in the country, but they are critical architypes in architectural discourse. The void of the house, the empty lot and muted plaque, is concretized within other architectural memorials. For example, Daniel Libeskind’s “Jewish Heritage Museum” completed in 2001 includes a hollow silo designed for self-reflection. However, the research project argues that an empty lot is akin to empty space, space where antimemory or counter-conceptions can slip in, and so, we must design memorials without constructed absence to instruct a direct memory of loss. We must memorialize without obtuse symbolism or coded didacticism. (Fig 2c, fig 3) “Building Up in Flames” is neither a memorial to those five lost and fourteen injured in the arson nor is it just an exercise in engaging architecture for explanative recapitulation of violence. It is the exploration of a new methodology which smuggles memory within the reappearance of violence and generates a remembrance arising from, emerging through, and building up in flames.


   Akcan, Esra. Open Architecture: Migration Citizenship, and the Urban Renewal of Berlin-Kreuzberg by IBA-1984/87. Basel, Birkhäuser, 2018.

Black, Hallie. Assorted artwork and photography are as follows:

Der Brandanschlag Solingen Memorial Plaque. Photograph, 2019.

Close-up of Der Brandanschlag Solingen Memorial Plaque. Photograph, 2019.

Facades and Plans of the Genç House. Digital drawing with collage, 2019.

Initial sketch of Facades and Plans of the Genç House. Graphite on trace paper, 2019.

Bathtub. Digital drawing with collage, 2019.

Initial sketch of Bathtub. Graphite on trace paper, 2019.

Bedroom and Living Room. Digital drawing with collage, 2019.

Initial sketch of Bedroom and Living Room. Graphite on trace paper, 2019.

Chair. Digital drawing with collage, 2019.

Initial sketch of Chair. Graphite on trace paper, 2019.

Vincentz, Frank. Solingen. Mahnmal Solinger Bürger und Bürgerinnen. 2009. Wikimedia Commons,  https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/e/eb/Solingen_-_Mahnmal_Solinger_Bürger_und_Bürgerinnen_04_ies.jpg. Accessed 21 March, 2022.

Das Solinger Mahnmal. Jugendhilfe-Werkstatt Solingen e.V., 
https://jugendhilfe-werkstatt.de/das-solinger-mahnmal/. Accessed 21 March, 2022.

Becher, Bernd, Hilla Becher. Framework Houses. Museum of Modern Art, 1959-73. 
https://www.moma.org/collection/works/127884. Accessed 20 May, 2019.

Bozo, Frédéric. “I Feel More Comfortable with You: France, the Soviet Union, and German Reunification.” Journal of Cold War Studies, vol. 17 no. 3, 2015, pp. 116-158. Project MUSE, muse.jhu.edu/article/595073.

Cowell, Alan. “Germans Sentenced in Arson Killing of Turks.” New York Times, 14 October 1995. 
https://archive.nytimes.com/query.nytimes.com/gst/fullpage-9A07E2DB1339F937A25753C1A963958260.html. Accessed 21 May, 2018.

Davis, Kathie. Interview with Diedre Berger. Weekend All Things Considered. June 6, 1993. 
https://search-proquest-com.proxy.library.cornell.edu/docview/190191895?pq-origsite=summon. Accessed 21 May, 2018.

Der Blackpuma. “Der Brandanschlag von Solingen - Part 1/2.” YouTube, produced by Die Welt, 3 May 2013, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EtHQmf-x8x4. Accessed 20 May, 2019.

Dguendel. Berlin-Mitte. die Neue Wache in der Straße "Unter den Linden", die Pietá von Käthe Kollwitz. 2013. Wikimedia Commons,  
https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Berlin-Mitte,_the_New_Guard_House,_piet%C3%A1_by_K%C3%A4the_Kollwitz.JPG. Accessed 30 September, 2021.

Freud, Sigmund. “Die Verneinung.” Translated by D. Rapaport in Organization and Pathology of Thought, New York, 1951.

“Germany’s Shameful Xenophobic Attack.” Der Spiegel, uploaded by Spiegel Online, 24 Aug. 2012, http://www.spiegel.de/video/20-years-after-rostock-germany-s-shameful-xenophobic-attack-video-1217041.html 

Göktürk, Deniz, David Gramling, and Anton Kaes, editors. Germany in Transit. University of California Press, 2007, pp. 10-11, 500.

Primary source documents cited in Germany in Transit are as follows:

Allgemeiner Deutscher Nachrictendienst. “Warm Welcome for 200 Korean Children.” 1955, pp. 70-71.

Ausländergesetz. “Foreigner Law (1990).” 1990, pp. 160-161.

Der Spiegel. “The Turks Are Coming! Save Yourself If You Can!.” 1973, pp. 110-111.

Ludat, Irina. “A Question of the Greater Fear.” 1985, pp. 46-51.

Schwarzer, Alice. “Hate in Solingen.” 1997, pp. 129-131.

Wernicke, Christian. “The Long Road to the German Passport.” 1989, pp. 156-159.

Wiessner, Irina. “Conservative and Manipulated.” 1994, pp. 161-163.

“Guest Workers” as “Human Capital”. DOMiD, https://www.domid.org/en/migration-history-germany. Accessed 21 May, 2018.

Huyssen, Andreas. “Diaspora and Nation: Migration Into Other Pasts.” New German Critique, iss. 88, 2003, pp. 147-159.

Kolinksy, Eva. “Between State Socialism and Democracy, 1989-1993. Former Contract Workers from Vietnam in Eastern Germany.” GFL Journal, no. 3, 2004, pp. 84-99.

James, Sir. “Brandanschlag Solingen, 1993.” 6 June 1993. Wikimedia Commons, 21 May 2018,
https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Brandanschlag_solingen_1993.jpg. Accessed 21 May, 2018. 

La Jetée. Directed by Chris Marker, Janus Film, 1962. https://www.kanopy.com/product/la-jetee. Accessed 17 May, 2019.

Malabou, Catherine. Ontology of the Accident. Translated by Carolyn Shread, Malden, Massachusetts, Polity Press, 2012. 

Mandel, Ruth. Cosmopolitan Anxieties: Turkish Challenges to Citizenship and Belonging in Germany. Durham, London, Duke University Press, 2008. 

MrMarxismo. “Woher kommt der Hass? - Der Brandanschlag von Solingen (1993)” YouTube, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BRPKE0e7lv8. Accessed 20 May, 2019.

Özdamar, Emine Sevgi. “The Courtyard in the Mirror.” Translated by Leslie A. Adelson. TRANSIT, A Journal of Travel, Migration, and Multiculturalism in the German-speaking World, vol. 2, iss. 1, 2005. 

Peck, Jeffrey. “Turks and Jews: Comparing Minorities in Germany After the 
Holocaust.” German Cultures Foreign Cultures: The Politics of Belonging, American Institute for Contemporary German Studies, 1997, pp. 1-16.

Pope, Albert. Ladders. Princeton, New Jersey, Princeton Architectural Press, 1996. 

Raymond. “Werksiedlung der Spiegelfabrik.” Rhein-Neckar-Indrustriekulture, 1865. 
http://www.rhein-neckar-industriekultur.de/objekte/spiegelkolonie-mannheim. Accessed on 20 May, 2019.

Schultze-Naumburg, Paul. “Verbesserungsvorschläge einer Bauberatungsstelle.” Pimath.de, 1914. https://www.pimath.de/saaleck/paul_schultze_naumburg/bund_heimatschutz.html. 
Accessed 20 May, 2019.

Şenocak, Zafer. Atlas of a Tropical Germany: Essays on Politics and Culture, 1990-1998. Translated by Leslie A. Adelson, University of Nebraska Press, 2000, pp. 43, 48, 52, 61.

SomePhotosByMe. Berlin. Holocaust Tower - Jewish Museum, Berlin. 2017. Flickr,  
https://www.flickr.com/photos/ilnycilnyc/37593714805 Accessed 21 March, 2022.

Vidler, Anthony. “The Building in Pain.” AA Files, vol. 57, no. 19, 3-10. 
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