The Twentieth Century Society

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Building of the month

February 2022 - Homomonument, Amsterdam

Homomonument, Amsterdam

For LGBT history month, we are featuring an excerpt from Adam Nathaniel Furman and Joshua Mardell’s new book: Queer Spaces: an Atlas of LGBTQIA+ Places and Stories (RIBA Publishing) , available now for pre-order – click here.

Throughout 2022, the ‘Building of the Month’ feature is in partnership with the Society of Architectural Historians of Great Britain’s Equality Diversity & Inclusion (ED&I) networks: the LGBTQIA+ Network, the Women Architectural Historians’ Network, the Race + Ethnicity Network, and the Disability Network

C20 supports their overall aim to actively ensure that diverse voices in histories of the built environment are heard; with each ‘Building of the Month’ relating to under-represented groups across geographies and building types.

Amsterdam – Karin Daan (1987)

Following German occupation of the Netherlands in 1945, many memorials were built in the city. The National Monument on Dam Square, Amsterdam became the centre of remembrance in Holland, and many of the old buildings that survived bear new layers of trauma and memory, like the Portuguese Synagogue, one of the only remaining buildings in the city’s Jewish neighbourhood, or the Anne Frank House. Not far from the latter, on a small square, lies the Homomonument. Unusually for Amsterdam memorials, people have been bringing flowers to it every day since it was erected in 1987.

Homomonument on the Westermarkt, 2008

Source: Stadsarchief Amsterdam / Kransberg, Doriann

A tangible space for memory, the monument consists of three pink granite triangles, which together form a larger triangle, connected by granite lines cutting through the streets and pavement, making the monument a part of the city’s very fabric and identity. It memorialises homosexual victims who were persecuted during Nazi occupation because of their sexuality, making it the first queer memorial of its kind in the world.

The monument was designed by Karin Daan, who won a competition organised by the city government in 1980, after the queer community convinced the city of the need for a gay and lesbian memorial. The monument’s triangles resemble the pink fabric triangles used by the Nazis during the Second World War to publicly mark homosexuals, reclaiming the shape as an international queer symbol.

Poster to attract crowdfunding to build the monument by Karin Daan (1980). The annotations highlight elements of the monument’s design, for instance designating that a line of poetry will be carved in bas relief. Next to the commemorative triangle that extends into the canal can be seen an “existing urinal”, in the shape of a curl, which can still be found next to the monument today. Colloquially known as “piss curls”, these remain as popular cruising spots across the city

Credit: Karin Daan.

Each triangle symbolises a different aspect of queer memory. The triangle extending over one of the city’s canals symbolises the present. It points to the National Monument on Dam Square, and functions as a place for present-day remembrance, therefore activating the past in order to spur social change. The triangle on street level symbolises the oppression and homophobic violence queer people faced in the past. It points towards the Anne Frank House on the Prinsengracht and contains verse by gay Jewish poet Jacob Israël de Haan: Naar vriendschap zulk een mateloos verlangen (“Such an Endless Longing for Friendship”). The triangle that rises from street level symbolises the future, and serves as a meeting place for people to come together. It can be used a podium for public speaking or a social meeting place. It points to the former office of the Dutch LGBTQIA+ interest organisation the, Cultuur en Ontspanningcentrum (COC) (“Centre for Culture and Leisure”), whose name functioned as a cover, to hide its real purpose.

Since its erection, the monument has been actively used by the queer community, and in 2017 it achieved ‘monumental status’ from the city government, protecting it from destruction or future alterations.

Flowers on the “triangle of remembrance” of the Homomonument on the Westermarkt, 1997

Source: Stadsarchief Amsterdam / Alberts, Martin

Jeroen van Dijk is an architectural history and heritage professional whose research centres on LGBTQ+ perspectives in the built environment. He has researched queer heritage in London and Amsterdam, focusing on queer memorials and night life. This vignette is featured in Queer Spaces: an Atlas of LGBTQIA+ Places & Stories (edited by Adam Nathaniel Furman and Joshua Mardell) available for pre-order.

The Building of the Month feature is edited by Dr. Joshua Mardell.

To celebrate LGBT history month, the C20 is hosting “C20 Queer Spaces: from Finella to Sissinghurst Talk”, with Elizabeth Darling and Jane Stevenson, on February 10th. For more information and to book, click here.

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