Homomonument: The Importance of a Representative Space in the City
While walking through the city, have you ever felt afraid to be yourself? As strange as the question may sound to some, it is a reality for most LGBTQIA+ people, who at some point have been victims of hostility when they were noticed performing outside the “heteronormative standards” of public spaces. If violence comes from social layers that go beyond the designed space, this does not exempt the importance of thinking about projects that can integrate the physical sphere and insert a symbolic or representational factor to include and educate its citizens. This is the case of Homomonument, which for more than three decades, has become a platform for queer celebration and protest in the heart of Amsterdam.
Designed by Karin Daan, the project won a competition held by the local government in 1980 after the LGBTQIA+ community initiated a movement requesting a memorial in the city. The project was completed in 1987, and was made to honor gays and lesbians persecuted for their sexual orientation during the Nazi occupation in the Netherlands, making it the first in the world to manifest their voices.
Homomument is an articulation between architecture, memory, and heritage. The structure is designed as one main triangle with three smaller ones made of pink granite, which connect to narrate a story and weave the necessary dialogues that cross time and space. The monument proposes different possibilities of use and occupation from the design of urban elements together with signs of the LGBTQIA+ community. Thus, it manifests a symbolic place in the city that serves as a special point for the Amsterdam gay parade, but also as an urban stage in which it is possible to celebrate, honor, and manifest the causes of the whole community.
The symbolic construction of this space plays a key role in highlighting its relevance. The triangles of the monument are inspired by the pink fabric triangles that the Nazis used to publicly mark homosexual people. This symbol was recovered and re-signified by the international queer community as a form of resistance and pride to act freely according to their desires. By integrating this image into the design of the space, Daan translated representation into the built environment, raising political and social agendas that reach all of the LGBTQIA+ community. Through this action, the place also began to stimulate and produce self-esteem and recognition for such people who hardly find spaces designed for them; an area in which they can feel at ease. Located in a central region, it demonstrates all the articulation with other important points of the city and history, bringing visibility to queer issues that were veiled in the public space.
“I think the best part is that the monument integrates itself into the place like an embroidery, and from above it is clearly visible how the triangle is intertwined with the urban and social space, that, for example, when taxi drivers stand in the middle of the monument, they are hardly aware of it. I think that is the most beautiful component of the Homomonument: we are there, proud and strong as granite, the monument binds us together here and now, but we are just as intertwined with the city and society in a larger time and space.” – Karin Daan¹
To better understand how the monument integrates into the urban fabric, Jeroen van Dijk explains that “each triangle symbolizes a different aspect of queer memory. The triangle extending over one of the city’s canals symbolizes the present. , and functions as a place for present-day remembrance, therefore activating the past in order to spur social change. Prinsengracht and contains a 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 symbolizes the future, and serves as a meeting place for people to come together. It can be used as a podium for public speaking or a social meeting place. It points to the former office of the Dutch LGBTQIA+ interest organization, the Cultuur en Ontspanningcentrum (COC) (Centre for Culture and Leisure), whose name functioned as a cover, to hide its real purpose.”²
Because it is a horizontal monument, which opposes the phallic and vertical reading that usually imposes and punctuates a truth in its context, the space becomes more inviting to receive actions that inflame the symbolic potential of the homomonument, serving establishing a landmark in the city that as a reference for the entire population.
other memorials in Amsterdam, the monument is frequently activated, mainly by the queer community, either in protests, unlike as a meeting space, or receiving flowers from its citizens. In 2017, it received “monumental status” from the city government to protect it and prevent future alterations. The status demonstrates the fundamental importance that a representative space can have when built in the city, bringing a place of memory, awareness, and symbolic importance to the LGBTQIA+ community along with possibilities for a future of greater equity and less prejudice.