The Iraqi Kurds’ journey to freedom

In 2016 Studio Daniel Libeskind and hsd unveiled designs for the proposed Kurdistan Museum to be be built in Erbil. The new museum will be the first major cultural centre documenting the Kurdish people’s struggle for self-determination and will provide community facilities where Kurdish history and culture can be researched, recorded and celebrated.

hsd was commissioned by the creators of the Memory Programme, RWF World, to respond to the initial architectural concept created by Studio Daniel Libeskind.  Through our work in the Middle East, Europe and North America, we have built a reputation of being able to explore cultural conflict and identity with both sensitivity and boldness.

“So many projects worldwide are set in the context of contested histories and ethnic and cultural conflict and museums provide an objective arena for expressing differing perspectives and facing difficult truths,” comments Alisdair Hinshelwood, hsd Director and Designer.

At the core of the project is the Memory Programme that has been recording and collecting personal testimonies from the Kurdish community. Drawing on this powerful material, our task has been to integrate the story of the Kurds and their journey along the road to freedom using the four interlocking volumes of the new museum to both contain and drive the story.

The experience embodies the emotional tension between the horror of the Anfal genocide and harrowing experiences of violence and loss, juxtaposed against a sense of cultural identity and the hope for the future. The integration of audio, large-scale still and moving images along with objects of both personal and historical significance, in a multi-lingual context, has demanded an interpretive response that cuts across traditional ethnic and generational barriers. New technologies will enable visitors to access the powerful body of first-person testimony throughout the museum experience.

It has been a privilege to work with narrative material that reveals a story that is little known to the rest of the world. The design is complete and the project will be fully implemented once the wider region has stabilised, occupying a prominent location at the base of Erbil’s ancient Citadel connecting the past, present and future of Kurdish culture in Northern Iraq.