Page D1.2 . 25 August 2004                     
ArchitectureWeek - Design Department
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New York Tolerance Center


The sequence of specialized spaces begins at the street-level entrance. Walls covered with quotations and images of inspiration and persecution remind visitors why they have come. Near the entry, an 80-seat auditorium is a venue for orientation presentations.

Descending to the lower, concourse level, is a two-story "smart wall" with plasma screens that draw visitors into the experience by displaying provocative questions. Simultaneously, video clips show interviews with people in places like Grand Central Station.

NBBJ principal Timothy Johnson, the center's architect, explains that these depictions show what happens when hate, stereotyping, and dehumanization go unheeded. Johnson says: "New York's collective 'psyche' is quite fragile post 9-11. It is essential to create a space where people can learn about the roots of evil and intolerance."

Curving Toward Tolerance

After the dramatic entrance, visitors pass through a series of spaces that vary both in message and medium. Irregular-shaped areas are defined by a wall of steel ribs that curves through the length of the building.

"Because of the nature of the content," Johnson says, "we didn't want to create a typical exhibit space with isolated kiosks featuring screens or panels of information. The spaces are designed to envelope the audience with the content in order to provoke conversation and reflection."

Stretched along the curving wall is "" where touch-screen computers expose hate sites on the Internet. In support of the compact spatial design, bleacher seats can be pushed in when not in use. Curving parallel to the global hate exhibit is a classroom that can be subdivided into three spaces depending on need.

The "Millenium Machine" is an interactive exhibit that immerses visitors in issues of global human rights. News clips are shown on plasma screens. Multiple choice questions are shown on monitors mounted on the curved steel ribs. Visitors discuss issues, make group decisions, and select answers by pressing buttons set into the surface of counter.

The "Point of View" diner is an interactive video experience that combines video and touch-screen monitors. Visitors watch a video and vote on an issue based on a scenario portraying situations of conflict in contemporary American contexts. Results of votes are tabulated instantly. They can then "interview" people in the video by selecting questions and then vote again.

Next is the "Hall of Memory," a 60-seat multimedia theater showing a film of Nazi Holocaust survivors' personal testimonies. The walls are etched with the names of concentration camps.

At the end of the exhibit sequence is the "Subway Experience" exit corridor. Panels on the wall flip to exhibit different stories. When open, they tell the history of Jews in the United States. When closed, they feature artwork by New York City high school students. Twelve exhibit areas challenge visitors to make the transition from the past to the present.

Though received in a public arena, the experience of each individual is deliberately choreographed to be personal. The center's creators hope this will help visitors extrapolate from past to present, from the global to the local, and from the collective to the individual, to better embrace diversity in their own lives.

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Project Credits

Architect: NBBJ, Timothy Johnson, AIA, Partner-in-Charge
Structural Engineering: Leslie E. Robertson Associates
Lighting: Horton Lees Lighting Design
Exhibits: HKD Design
General Contractor: Lehr Construction


ArchWeek Image

Smart wall with orientation video monitors in the New York Tolerance Center, designed by NBBJ.
Photo: Michael Moran

ArchWeek Image

Sequence of interactive spaces.
Image: NBBJ

ArchWeek Image

Visitors experience the effects of hate through the Internet.
Photo: Michael Moran

ArchWeek Image

The Holocaust theater.
Photo: Michael Moran

ArchWeek Image

Classroom area of the New York Tolerance Center.
Photo: Michael Moran

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The "Point of View" diner.
Photo: Michael Moran

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"Subway Experience" exit corridor.
Photo: Michael Moran

ArchWeek Image

Entry to Holocaust theater.
Photo: Michael Moran


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