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Interior perspective of The Evidence Room with models of an Auschwitz gas column and gas-tight hatch, plaster casts and a model of a gas-tight door. (Photo: Fred Hunsberger, University of Waterloo School of Architecture/Courtesy of the Royal Ontario Museum)

The Evidence Room, the exhibit that opened recently at the Royal Ontario Museum in Toronto, embodies Robert Jan van Pelt’s detailed and unique analysis of the Holocaust. An architectural historian at the University of Waterloo, he’s written often on the Holocaust, not only proving that it happened but that Auschwitz was carefully planned as a Nazi death site for a million Jews.

He remembers when he began teaching in the 1980s; how he was surprised to find that there were no courses in the ethics of architecture. That led him naturally to the Holocaust, the most interesting and most horrible research of his life.

Visiting Auschwitz on many occasions, studying the archived drawings of the architects who designed it, he realized he was plunging into the murky subject of “forensic architecture,” a term unknown until a few decades ago. Eventually, he was called as a witness in a famous British trial, gathering evidence that became an exhibit at the Venice biennale.

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