UVA’s Memorial to Enslaved Laborers Wins Top Design Award

The memorial of enslaved laborers

The new recognition, from a prominent architecture and design publication, comes at the end of a year when the memorial received extraordinary coverage in the news. (Photo by Sanjay Suchak, University Communications)

The Architect’s Newspaper has selected the University of Virginia’s Memorial to Enslaved Laborers as the Project of the Year in its 2020 Best of Design Awards, and also named it the best in the category of public and social impact. 

The memorial is the result of years of advocacy from students, alumni, faculty and community members, and leadership and research by the President’s Commission on Slavery and the University and the Office of the Architect for the University. It was designed by the Boston firm Höweler+Yoon in consultation with a team that included UVA alumna Mabel O. Wilson, a cultural historian and designer on the faculty of Columbia University; Frank Dukes, a community activist and past director of the Institute for Environmental Negotiation in the UVA School of Architecture; Gregg Bleam, a landscape architect who taught at UVA; and artist Eto Otitigbe.

The Architect’s Newspaper editors noted that “the quality of the submissions has rarely been stronger or … more timely.”

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Under the unprecedented circumstances of 2020, with coronavirus pandemic lockdowns and protests related to racial justice, the winning projects were completed early in the year. The editors pointed out that the top honorees reflect these tumultuous events and address the nation’s “fraught history of race.” The memorial “circumscribes a space for mournful contemplation,” they said.

Located within sight of the Rotunda and the UVA Corner, and within the footprint of the UNESCO World Heritage Site, the memorial’s design is intentionally symbolic. Its diameter matches that of the Rotunda, which itself was built by enslaved laborers. Its open, concentric shape – made of the same granite as the Rotunda’s upper terrace – represent the shackles of slavery, broken and with a path to freedom. The innermost ring bears hundreds of known names of the enslaved, plus placeholders – or “memory marks” – for the estimated 4,000 names that have yet to be found.

With a readership of more than 1 million, The Architect’s Newspaper covers a wide range of topics related to the built environment, from interiors and lighting to installations and landscape architecture. Its Best of Design Awards program showcases innovative projects in 50 categories.

This year’s jury chose 47 honorees from more than 800 international submissions based on outstanding design and creativity. The publication will feature the memorial in an upcoming profile.

“This is tremendous recognition for the project,” Alice Raucher, architect for the University, said. “This award recognizes not only the design of the memorial itself, but the thoughtful and engaged process the team went through to hear as many voices as possible and engage the many stakeholders in the project’s development.”

First proposed by students 10 years ago, the idea for the Memorial to Enslaved Laborers garnered widespread support from UVA students, faculty, staff and administrators, alumni – especially through the IDEA Fund, and people from the local community. The President’s Commission on Slavery and the University pursued the idea to recognize those who helped build and maintain UVA in its early years. In fall 2016, the Board of Visitors selected Höweler+Yoon to design the memorial; construction concluded early in 2020. A formal dedication ceremony was postponed due to the pandemic.

The Architect’s Newspaper also recognized the UVA Health’s hospital expansion, designed by Perkins&Will, as an “editors’ pick” in the health care category.

Media Contact

Anne E. Bromley

Office of University Communications