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Jessica Cretney

History, De Montfort University

Thesis title:

The Concentration Camp, Spatial Experience and Architectural Modernism, 1933-1945

My research considers the built environment of Nazi concentration camps as deliberately created spatial experiences, linked with the ideological drive for architectural efficiency and modernist aims of functionality and standardisation.

The link between the built environment and user experience is well-established in architectural theory, but historical study has yet to fully investigate these relationships to better understand the past. Historians frequently cite the closure of the influential Bauhaus school and emigration of the likes of Walter Gropius and Ludwig Mies van der Rohe as evidence of the Nazi regime’s rejection of modernist design. Less well understood, however, is the influence of former Bauhaus members who chose to remain. Ernst Neufert (author of the internationally-renowned Architects’ Data, 1936) employed modernist aims of functionality and standardisation to design a new “Octametric” building method specifically for forced labourers.

Modernist architectural theory in the 1920s and 30s venerated the “machine metaphor”, in which built spaces should be rationalised and efficient as a means of achieving “social Utopianism” (Jencks, 1985). Cohen (2011) has argued that in Nazi Germany, this functional approach was increasingly applied to the “extreme compression of human bodies” within places of detention. Existing research on Ernst Neufert is scant, but it has recently been demonstrated that he worked for Albert Speer in the GBI (Generalbauinspektor für die Reichshauptstadt) and explicitly acknowledged and designed for “untrained labour power” (Vossoughian, 2017). The project aims to investigate connections between concentration camps as physical manifestations of Nazi ideology and highly influential modernist architectural theories of standardisation and efficiency.

Research Area

  • History


New Directions in Holocaust Studies Workshop, Senate House, London, organised by the Holocaust Research Institute at Royal Holloway, University of London, 4th November 2021
Paper: Building and Historical Artefact: The Holocaust, Architecture and Affect

Power, Production and Perception: Reconsidering Space and the Built Environment, 29th September 2021
(De Montfort University and Coventry University)
Co-organiser and chair

GHIL (German Historical Institute London) Postgraduate Research Students Conference, 7th-8th January 2021
Paper: The Concentration Camp, Spatial Experience and Architectural Modernism

Nazi Sites of Persecution Workshop: 'Intertwined Worlds? New Research on Nazi Sites of Persecution', co-organised by the University of Kent, University of Leicester and Harvard University, 5th August 2020
Paper: The Concentration Camp, Spatial Experience and Architectural Modernism

Public Engagement & Impact

War, Crisis and Confinement: Lessons from the Twentieth Century, online public lecture and panel discussion organised by De Montfort University
Paper: Confinement by Design: Space and Nazi Concentration Camps

Other Research Interests

  • Holocaust and genocide studies
  • History of eugenics and "race science"
  • Architecture and design theory


  • German History Society (GHS)
  • British Association for Holocaust Studies (BAHS)
  • Institute for Historical Research (IHR) History Lab


HIST2016 - Module tutor, second year module Germany During the Second World War
HIST3000 - Supervisor, third year undergraduate dissertation

Other Activities

2021-2022 Postgraduate Research Student Representative for Arts, Design and Humanities, De Montfort University