On Friday, June 5, members of the University of Virginia (UVA) community came together at the institution’s new Memorial to Enslaved Laborers to remember George Floyd, the Black man killed while in police custody in Minneapolis on May 25. Demonstrators kneeled in silence for almost 9 minutes—the length of time that former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin, who has been charged with murder, kneeled on Floyd’s neck.
Attendees affiliated with UVA Health wore white coats, signifying their support of the “White Coats for Black Lives” movement, which works to eliminate racial bias in the practice of medicine and recognizes racism as a threat to the health and well-being of people of color.
Boston-based architecture firm Höweler + Yoon collaborated with architect, educator, and activist Mabel O. Wilson (who was one of RECORD's 2019 Women in Design award winners), artist Eto Otitigbe, UVA professor Frank Dukes, and landscape architect Gregg Bleam to design a structure honoring the memory of the enslaved laborers who built UVA’s campus. Many have gathered at the Memorial in recent days, "calling for justice at a site remembering years of injustice," writes UVA's Sanjay Suchak.
The team conceived of the circular form as a place of assembly, Wilson tells RECORD. “It feels very gratifying and quite powerful to see that the Memorial has become a site of protest and a way of connecting with history,” she says. “Even though it’s not officially open, it instantly became that. It’s been a real testament to the power of architecture.”
But that’s not to say that the profession is off the hook, Wilson continues. “We need an understanding of how architecture is very much complicit in injustice. If we’re going to do work around justice, we also have to understand that our own discipline is problematic.”
Originally slated to be inaugurated on May 8, the official opening was postponed due to the pandemic. A new date has yet to be announced.