James Ingo Freed (born 1930) was an American architect who designed many important structures, including the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum.
James Ingo Freed was born on June 23, 1930, in Essen, Germany. A Jewish refugee in Nazi Germany, Freed escaped to France in 1938 and emigrated to the United States with his younger sister in 1939. His parents emigrated in 1941. Freed became a naturalized American citizen in 1948.
In 1953 Freed received his Bachelor of Architecture degree from the Illinois Institute of Technology where he studied under Ludwig Mies van der Rohe, a renowned modernist architect who also escaped Adolf Hitler's Germany. After holding positions at Danforth & Speyer and Michael Reese Planning Association, both in Chicago, Freed worked under Mies' direction on the Seagram Building in New York City. Following a two-year appointment in the United States Army, Freed found a permanent position with I. M. Pei and Partners in 1956. He became a partner in 1980, and in 1989 the firm's name was changed to Pei Cobb Freed & Partners.
Throughout his lengthy career Freed sought projects that aimed to transform urban space into a pleasing and meaningful environment for the public. His structures include West Loop Plaza (Houston, Texas, 1980), Potomac Towers (Rosslyn, Virginia, 1990), and the New Warner Building on Pennsylvania Avenue (Washington, D.C., 1992). An architectural focus was the convention center, a structure Freed found particularly challenging due to its multiple and varied uses. Beginning in the late 1980s, Freed designed the New York Exposition and Convention Center, the Jacob Javits Convention Center in New York City, and the Los Angeles Convention Center in California. The latter is exemplary of Freed's desire to serve the urban populace. Giant towers of light are visible from the busy Los Angeles freeway, on which thousands of commuters travel each day, while the pedestrian side of the convention center is scaled to human size. Thus the building is functional for those attending convention center events, but also serves as a memorable landmark to travelers.
Noted for Holocaust Museum
In general, Freed sought challenging architectural commissions with extensive program requirements. One such commission, the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, is perhaps his most notable project. Located just off the National Mall in Washington, D.C., the Holocaust Museum opened in April 1993, following more than 13 years of planning and construction. After visiting the sites of various concentration camps, Freed presented his architectural plan to the United States Holocaust Memorial Council in 1987. The design was unanimously approved. Construction commenced on the 1.9-acre site in September 1988.
Throughout the museum Freed made use of an industrial-type architecture of brick and steel. This type of modern construction, normally indicative of the benefits of a technologically advanced society, assumes haunting connotations in the context of the museum. While Freed did not aim to literally reproduce the Jewish ghettos or death camps in his design, certain referents to Nazi architecture are evident. For example, the tall, pointed structures on the exteriors of the museum may refer to the watchtowers from which concentration camp prisoners were monitored.
In planning the architectural transition from the exterior of the museum to its interior, Freed sought to separate the visitor both spatially and emotionally from the bustling city of Washington. The curved neoclassical façade, constructed of limestone, is nothing more than a false front for the "real" brick and steel structure inside. As such, it is symbolic of the gates to the concentration camps through which all Jewish prisoners passed.
Inside the museum, the Hall of Witness is a three-story rectangular room constructed of brick walls, boarded-up windows, and an intentionally warped skylight. The hall, through which all visitors pass upon entering the museum, is designed to disorient the visitor and to signify certain environmental components of Nazi Germany. The brick walls are a direct reference to the killing wall of Auschwitz. An immense steel staircase, narrower at the top and wider at the bottom, also disengages the visitor by its structural incongruities and skewed perspective. The skylight, set at a diagonal across the length of the hall, is constructed of steel and glass and is the main source of light for the room. As Freed noted, "Light is the only thing I know that heals. People at the camps said the sky was the only way out." Consequently, natural light, which Freed exploits through the design of the glass roof, is an important symbol for the architect.
The Hall of Remembrance is similarly symbolic in its design. The hexagonally-shaped room is also illuminated by a skylight. As a more subtle modernist construction, the Hall of Remembrance serves as a place for quiet contemplation once the visitor has passed through the entire museum. Installed on one side of the room is a steel box containing soil from various death camps, over which burns an eternal flame of remembrance. Candles line the perimeters of the remainder of the limestone walls. Small, triangular windows, perhaps referential to the similarly-shaped badges worn by the Jewish prisoners, permit limited view to the outside world. Through these windows the visitor may glimpse the Lincoln, Jefferson, and Washington Memorials, structures that, ironically, pledge freedom and democracy to all. In its design and installation, the Hall of Remembrance is a universal structure that serves to remind the visitor of the atrocities that occur by the hands of humanity.
Honored by President
Freed's Holocaust Museum is indicative of the quality of his work, for which he received abundant accolades. A fellow of the American Institute of Architects, Freed held several professorships at prestigious universities, including Columbia and Yale. He also served as dean and professor of architecture at the Illinois Institute of Technology from 1975 to 1978. Freed's numerous awards include the R.S. Reynolds Award for Excellence in Architecture, the Arnold W. Brunner Memorial Prize in Architecture, and the Thomas Jefferson Award for Public Architecture. Freed was awarded the National Medal of Arts in 1995. He was one of 13 honored that year by the annual award whose recipients are named by the president of the United States. The award honors distinguished artists who have offered inspiration to others, either through artistic achievement or exceptional work on behalf of the arts. His later projects include the San Francisco Main Public Library, California, and the United States International Cultural and Trade Center at Federal Triangle, Washington, D.C.
Freed's populist sensibility revealed itself when he discussed the San Francisco Library, which opened in 1996. "Old libraries told stories of power. But great tombs are no longer our forte. We needed a place for communities to celebrate their own essences."
Further Reading on James Ingo Freed
No complete biography exists for James Ingo Freed. He is, however, cited in the 47th edition of Who's Who in America (1992-1993), volume 1; and in Les Krantz, editor, American Architects (1989). A good discussion of Freed's design for the Holocaust Museum may be found in Jim Murphy's article in Progressive Architecture (February 1993); for further commentary on the museum and a brief biography on Freed, see Kenneth Woodward, "We Are Witnesses," and Cathleen McGuigan, "He Built a Space of Terrible Beauty," in Newsweek (April 26, 1993).
Additional Biography Sources
Knesl, John, "Accidental Classicists: Freed in Washington, Libeskind in Berlin," Assemblage: 1991, Dec., No. 16, p. 98-101.
Cohen, Jean Lawlor, "James Ingo Freed: Architect of the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum," Museum & Arts Washington: 1988, Mar.-Apr., v. 4, no. 2, p. 40-44.
Freed, James Ingo; Murphy, Jim; "Memorial to Atrocity: the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum," Progressive Architecture: 1993, Feb., v. 74, n. 2, p. 60-73.
Sorkin, Michael, "The Holocaust Museum: Between Beauty and Horror," Progressive Architecture: 1993, Feb., v. 74, n. 2, p. 74.