On a recent afternoon, the historian Robert Jan van Pelt was standing in a quiet room at the 15th Venice Architecture Biennale, explaining the significance of an unassuming steel-mesh column that visitors to this sprawling survey of global design might walk right past.
“This is one of the most deadly things so far created,” Mr. van Pelt said. And it was the handiwork, he noted, of an architect.
The column — painted, like everything else in the room, a pristine white — is a reproduction of one of the eight chutes used to lower Zyklon B poison pellets into gas chambers at Auschwitz. It was built on the basis of historical documents introduced in the 2000 libel case brought by the British historian and Holocaust denier David Irving, at which Mr. van Pelt, a leading authority on the construction of that Nazi death camp, was an expert witness.
Now it is also a centerpiece of “The Evidence Room,” a haunting installation that stands as a reminder of architecture’s potential both to do unspeakable harm and to argue for truth against lies.
Alejandro Aravena, the artistic director of this year’s biennale, calls Mr. van Pelt’s expert testimony a powerful example of “reversed architectural logic.”
Mr. van Pelt “has studied the camps as if he had the problem of designing them, and used that knowledge in the trial to triumph over negationism,” Mr. Aravena said in a telephone interview. […]