Absent Monument


Nothing is Something

  • Location Frankfurt am Main, Germany
  • ProgramMemorial for the deported Jews of Frankfurt
  • ClientThe City of Frankfurt am Main
  • Size250 m²
  • YearJury’s Special Prize, 2009-10
  • EngineerRambøll

Is it possible to create a meaningful memorial for the Jews that was gathered at this place - at the Frankfurt Grossmarkthalle, to be deported to the extermination camps? A memorial for the loss of homes, loss of privacy, loss of social belonging, loss of country, loss of history and loss of future?

By removing a part of the river Main we create a void - a space of absence - of nothingness, that can reminding us of the lives that were taken away.

Absent Monument is an interpretation of deportation. The steady movement of the water is brought to a fall. In this exact place, the visitor will experience the void, and in a very direct way the meaning of deportation and segregation of the Jews from the community of Frankfurt.


The design was conceived as a response to what seemed like a battle to be lost.

The European Central Bank was going to build a skyscraper on the scene of the crime - next to The Grossmarkthalle. The two building creating a X and a Y axises in a gigantic Cartesian coordinate system. One embodying the history, the other one the future. The horisontal; Grossmarkthalle (a historic landmark), pointing backwards, and the vertical; the ECB-highrise pointing upwards - towards the future.
They were going to build a giant monument in glass and steel, to celebrate money and progress on the site of Nazi violence and hate. The designteam realised that no grand gesture build in the memory of Frankfurt jews could possibly win the battle for attention with these giants. And it would be like raising a tombstone - a ridiculously small one, that would give the impression that we were trying to bury the memory of holocaust.

Building nothing was the only possible option...to do the absent monument.

Less spectacular, less impressive...more less.


Grossmarkthalle, bridge and signal tower, etc. are restored, not renovated, and the area is organized, not designed. The recess in the water is not to be experienced as a construction, mere a modulation of the existing river.

The absent monument is an interpretation of the deportation. The visitor experiences the emptiness and understands in a very direct way the exclusion and expulsion of Jews from the Frankfurt Community.

Although the Main itself was not used for the deportation, the river is of great symbolic importance as a symbol of life and time.
A square void in a river is something different than a hole in the ground, and it is not created in order to imitate or look like a grave. It rather shows the sudden fall and change of direction of the water. Unlike soil, the water is in constant motion, even though it is brought to a sudden fall.


An open top concrete box, is placed in the riverbed. Inside the concrete box is an adjustable steel frame mounted that moves with the changing water level - limiting the inflow to the box.
The water from the bottom of the concrete box is pumped back into the river. A pump on shore is designed to create limited maintenance costs and for the constructions to be invisible for the audience.