Anne Exhibit at Museum of Tolerance
Designer: Yazdani Studio of Cannon Design
Client: Simon Wiesenthal Center
Location: Los Angeles
“In this rare instance, a space takes a person on an emotional and physical journey. Layers of information are presented in different ways, and a balance of scale and intimacy makes the abstract real. It’s intimate and visceral, engaging all senses.” -Jury
“Anne” is a permanent exhibition incorporating multimedia presentations and interactive elements in the Museum of Tolerance in Los Angeles, a Simon Wiesenthal Center Museum. Designed by Yazdani Studio of Cannon Design—which has been working with the Wiesenthal Center for 17 years—the exhibition recreates the life of Anne Frank, based on her writings published in The Diary of a Young Girl.
For Rabbi Marvin Hier, dean and founder of the Simon Wiesenthal Center and museum director, the exhibition provides a way to reach out to the 20,000 students who visit the museum every year, and encourages them to apply the lessons of history to their own lives. Having visited the house in Amsterdam in which Anne and her family hid in the attic for two years, he suggested that the cramped space be recreated in the exhibition. “The idea was to put every visitor in the attic with Anne,” Hier says. “We wanted them to be engaged, not detached.”
Mehrdad Yazdani, principal of Yazdani Studio, is an émigré from Iran and Anne’s experience personally resonated with him. “I first heard about this story from my daughter when she was a teenager, and I understood that you have to make it seem relevant to people of that age,” he says. “At the end, we place the audience in a darkened room and allow a compilation film to dramatize Anne’s experience of confinement, gazing out at the sky and listening for footfalls in the night. The students emerge into an interactive zone that engages them on a personal level.”
Visitors cross a third-floor bridge that links the museum to the yeshiva, designed by Yazdani in 2001. A shadowy image of Anne emerges from a page of her diary, gazing out to the hills of Hollywood, a place she dreamed of as a star-struck child. Frankfurt, home to the Franks for centuries, and Amsterdam, to which they fled in 1933, are evoked in a row of gabled facades, silkscreened onto a zigzag wall. Narrow steps lead down to the second floor, where artifacts include a letter from the U.S. State Department denying the family asylum.
To guide visitors through the linear space and add another layer of meaning, Yazdani introduced an “infinity wall” that undulates and tilts. Inspired by images of stacked uniforms taken from victims of the gas chambers, he lined both sides of the wall with more than 15,000 tightly folded shirts, representing a tiny fraction of the 1.5 million children whose lives were cut short by the Holocaust. Bright colors evoke Anne’s carefree childhood, and as visitors progress, the tones darken and the wall tilts down, compressing the space and conveying the brutality and despair of the Nazi occupation. Skeletal branches, etched onto glass in the stairwell linking the two levels of the exhibit, recall the chestnut tree below Anne’s window,
which symbolized her yearning to escape.
The Anne Frank House in Amsterdam carefully guards its legacy and forbids filming on the premises, but Yazdani used 3D modeling software to create a digital simulation of its interior. Across from this simulation, a wall of shelves lined with vintage box files swings open to reveal a screen room. A nine-minute film, projected in the round, places visitors side-by-side with Anne in her hiding place as she composes her diary. Oscar-nominated actress Hailee Steinfeld, who is close to the same age as Anne was at the time, captures the intensity of a teenager struggling to understand her own feelings and keep hope alive in a world turned upside down.
The exhibition opened in October and has already won applause from such luminaries as Steven Spielberg and Barbra Streisand, and from teachers and a board member of the Anne Frank Fonds foundation in Basel. Yazdani has designed an addition to the Museum of Tolerance and is designing the exhibits for its sibling museum in Jerusalem.