Strassler Center for Holocaust and Genocide Studies

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About Cohen-Lasry House

Cohen-Lasry House, home to the Strassler Center for Holocaust and Genocide Studies, is an elegant turn of the century villa located at the center of the Clark University campus. Renovated by the award-winning architects Julian Bonder and Dean Rykerson, Cohen-Lasry House was enlarged by several gracious additions made possible by friends of the Center: the Rose Library, the Siff exhibition space, the Freedman courtyard, and the Jakubowitz-Chaifetz garden.

Not a Museum; Not a Memorial; Not a Place of Worship

Lasry House architect faced unique challenges
The Holocaust was about the destruction of dialogue, says architect Julian Bonder, explaining his work on Cohen-Lasry House.

"This space by contrast, is about the creation of dialogue on multiple levels," Bonder says of  the house. And dialogue was created indeed, as the aging Victorian building at 11 Hawthorne St. underwent its year-long transformation.

As renovations to the building began and the addition, with its gray, metallic covering, took shape, many observers were puzzled. What is it supposed to be? What is it supposed to represent? Perhaps the best response, Bonder suggests, is to address what Cohen-Lasry House is not. It is not a memorial, not a museum, and not a place of worship. One task of this unusual architectural assignment, he says, was to avoid "a romantic historic moment, and to infuse the site and the existing structure with a new story—the most horrific and uncanny story of modern times," he says.

"Sitting in the library, reading about the Holocaust, you always have a way out to the city, to the history of the house, the garden, the sky, to the present," Bonder says.

A small Japanese maple is planted at a central point outside, between the traditional and contemporary structures—what Bonder refers to as the "void between the two historic moments." A segment of the original stone foundation is exposed in the indoor connecting passageway. Two computer stations are there, and between them is a thin, vertical window through which the elegant maple can be seen, perfectly centered.

A building of questions

Bonder is keenly aware that controversy greeted his work at Clark, and he welcomes questions as enthusiastically as he and the staff of the Center for Holocaust Studies welcome members of the Clark community to visit Lasry House to learn, to remember and to question. In March, the Center invited the public to a guided tour and discussion titled, "The Story of Lasry House," which featured Bonder, along with Stanford Anderson, head of the Architecture Department at MIT, and Strassler Distinguished Visiting Scholar Michael Berenbaum.

"What we get from Jewish tradition is that the question itself is at the core of humanity. Nazism forbids dialogue, questioning. The design of Lasry House and its addition is about allowing questions and exploring the 'Other.'

"Architecture is about questions," Bonder says. "There should be a question at the end."