Battlefields are not sites that we visit – they are places through which we wander in awe and respect, experiencing them at the deepest level of our humanity. Initially, we neither see nor understand: just embankments, piles of rocks. It takes time and explanations; not to comprehend, but instead to come to terms with the extent of the rain of bombs that fell for four years on forts like Douaumont, with its thousands of mangled, buried victims, and to realise the absurdity of it all.
The studio proposal was to facilitate the shock of discovery by providing pathways usable by all members of the public and by creating support structures for the essential explanations. Minimal intervention was required.
Here there are no monuments, no attempt to re-establish an architectural order. The terms “landscape” and “architecture” are not appropriate here. The needs have been dealt with in a straightforward fashion: a lift so that everyone is able to reach the site, a ramp. The choices made are harsh: Corten steel, whose rusted surface is an expression of a form of timelessness, is the chosen material for the themes and explanations that encourage the visitors – especially the younger generations – to take away a little of this part of history with them. The rest is to be left in the purity of its horror.