In a bid to start a clear dialogue about the racial injustices in America and as repentance for the mass atrocities committed, EJI proposed building a memorial which recognizes this dark past. A fitting tribute to the injustices faced and remembrance of their lives could be the beginning of recovery and rehabilitation. The National Memorial for Peace and Justice is a statement about racial injustices, slavery, lynching and marginalization. The horrific human rights abuses, apartheid and trauma that the African-American community has had to go through before 1865 when slavery was abolished in all American states as well as the subtle racism which still continues and is seen to be rising in USA, makes this project an extremely socio-politically relevant one. Never before has this part of American history been symbolized in a permanent architectural edifice.
Spread across six acres and designed by MASS Design group, the structure comprises eight hundred hanging pillars depicting the counties in USA where mob violence took place. These pillars are made of Corten steel with
the names of the people who lost their lives in that county engraved on them. The design creates the right narrative for public participation, by replicating the monuments in a ‘memory bank’ outside the main memorial. Therefore, people of each county are encouraged to claim the identical corten steel cuboids from the field, bearing the name of the departed and honor it in their own community (TED, 2016). The memorial sits on a green expanse interjected with pathways which take the visitor on a journey from slavery, through lynching and racial abuse with placards, statues and art. In the centre of the site stands the memorial square of 2,800 Sqm, a pavilion with hanging corten steel cuboids.
The design instills a deeper connect between the built and the user, establishing a relationship between architecture and people. In a TedTalk (2016), before the construction of the memorial began, Ar. Michael Murphy described the memorial as an architecture capable of spiritual healing. “Buildings are not simply expressive sculptures. They make visible our personal and collective aspirations as a society. Great architecture can give us hope. Great architecture can heal” (TED, 2016).
The space is simple yet poignant. The pavilion is planned around a central court, semi covered with hanging corten steel slabs. The topography has hardly been altered which gives the memorial the effect of being pulled out of the Earth. The height of the pavilion is cleverly designed to have an overpowering effect with the cuboids hanging from the top making people look up to the names of scores of black people to whom the memorial is dedicated. Quite symbolic! Corten steel rusts and develops a beautiful red patina over time giving the columns a dynamic quality. A simple flat roof and a green field of identical corten steel markers champions the victims, rather than the build. By inscribing every victim’s name on the slabs, the memorial also sends out a powerful message ‘Black lives matter.’
Narrative architecture attempts to tell a story, to create a built saga. The National memorial also serves as a learning experience almost, to the young generation, who remain wholly unexposed to the wrongdoings of American history and instills in them an outrage for white supremacy. Most importantly though, it gives the Black community, hope.