Silent Witness: Rachel Whiteread’s Nameless Library

Main Article Content

Rachel Carley


Silent Witness examines the British sculptor Rachel Whiteread’s Nameless Library, (1996-2000), a holocaust memorial in Judenplatz Square, Vienna. For her project, the sculptor designed an inverted library in concrete, the proportions being derived from those found in a room surrounding the square. While the majority of critics refer to this memorial as an ‘inside out’ library, this paper argues that Whiteread’s design is not so easily understood. It will identify the ways in which her design complicates relationships between sculpture and architecture, container and contained, private and public, interior and façade, as well as domestic and civic scales. The work is placed within a ‘counter monumental’ tradition of memorialisation, as articulated by James E. Young, which demonstrates a radical re-making of memorial sculpture after the Holocaust. It is argued that this site-specific memorial, partially cloned from the urban context in which it is placed, commemorates a loss that is beyond words. Nameless Library utilises architectural operations and details to evoke a disquieting atmosphere in urban space, borrowing from the local to inculcate neighbouring structures as silent witnesses to past atrocities. The memorial is compared to the casemate fortifications on the Atlantic wall; the defensible spaces of bunkers, described by Paul Virilio in his book bunker Archaeology as ‘survival machines’. It is argued that Whiteread’s careful detailing of Nameless Library is designed to keep memory alive. Under Whiteread’s direction, The typological form of the bunker is transformed into a structure of both physical and psychic defense. The memorial has been specifically designed to resist attack by vandals and also functions as a defence against entropy, taking into itself and holding onto lost loved ones, preserving their memory.

Article Details

How to Cite
Carley, Rachel. 2010. “Silent Witness:: Rachel Whiteread’s Nameless Library”. idea journal 10 (1):24-39.
text-based research essay
Author Biography

Rachel Carley, Unitec Institute of Technology

Rachel Carley completed her PhD in Architecture in 2006. her thesis, Whiteread’s soundings of Architecture, moulds a series of contours between the British artist Rachel Whiteread’s sculptures and architectural discourse. soundings are taken in order to explore the complex ways in which the artist enlists architectural drawing and modelling practices to shed light on the rich interior lives of quotidian spaces and typological structures frequently overlooked. Current post-doctoral research critically examines the relationship between literary constraints (in particular the work of George perec) and interior design studio pedagogy. since 1994, Carley has also been designing slip cast, earthenware ceramics that have been extensively published in New Zealand design magazines.