On Tuesday, February 11, the United College Employees (UCE) of FIT hosted a commemorative event on the history of transatlantic slave trade in Katie Murphy Amphitheatre. Rodney Leon, founder and principal of Rodney Leon Architects, presented the keynote address, where he discussed his experience creating two important public memorials—the African Burial Ground and the Ark of Return.
In 2007, Leon’s African Burial Ground Memorial in Lower Manhattan opened; the site is a national monument, the largest and oldest excavated burial ground in North America for both free and enslaved Africans. In 2015, he designed the Ark of Return, another permanent memorial that honors the victims of slavery, at the United Nations headquarters in Midtown.
His presentation, “Collective Memory: Remembering the Transatlantic Slave Trade Memorials in Urban Placemaking,” recounted the creation of both sites. “The desire is not to reinvent the past, but to learn from the past,” Leon said as he described his seven design criteria on constructing a monument: It must educate and communicate; it must have an urban presence, at the scale of everyday life; it must be culturally contextual; it must be symbolic; it must be treated as a sacred site; it must speak to people across international boundaries; and it must be interactive.
The event was part of FIT’s Black History Month activities. For more information on upcoming Black History Month events, visit the Office of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion website.