Many of your projects deal with tangible or intangible imprints of the past – whether that’s building onto an historic structure, or honouring lives led, and lost, at the Bernie Grant Arts Centre, Stephen Lawrence Centre, and the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture. How can a building mediate memory?
I think a building is supposed to mediate memory. Architecture is a story and the methodology is to find the narrative. Not a narrative based on fantasy but instead based on analysis of how history comes into the present, and projects into the future. The task is to find moments within these three conditions of our existence that make sense and need to be amplified. What makes architecture so interesting is that it seeks to make this intangibility tangible. We, in our various societies, are dealing with intangible issues that need constructable narratives for us to engage.
Without these tributes people cannot learn from the past and risk forgetting. Imagine a monument to the atrocities of slavery in every community it happened. Every generation to come would have to reconcile that issue and connect it to place. Without that process I don’t see how any society is to honestly claim to be learning from its past.
The reverse is what we have now, and a direct result of the vested interests of the powerful group’s desire to rewrite their history or distance themselves from the horrors that led to their current positions—and it doesn’t work. But look at Berlin. The city is filled with monuments to commemorate World War II and the Holocaust. They have made a conscious decision to reckon with that history and their monuments serve as a reminder of what they have overcome.