African Burial Ground selects two firms to design center

By Janet Kwon

Two firms have been selected to design the African Burial Ground’s interpretive center in Lower Manhattan.

Roberta Washington Associates of Manhattan will design the space at the 290 Broadway federal building and Amaze Design, Inc of Boston will produce a 15-minute film for the center as well as an oral history exhibit on the creation of the national monument at Duane and Elk Sts. About 20,000 Africans are believed to be buried at the former cemetery.

The center is expected to open in 2008. Architect Rodney Leon’s design for the outdoor memorial across the street was chosen in 2005 and is expected to open in the fall of 2007.

“[The Interpretive Center] will provide information about the African Burial Ground and also about the rediscovery of the site in ‘91 and the community involvement and the activism that led to the awareness that we have today,” said Tara Morrison, an African Burial Ground spokesperson, referring to when the site was first discovered in 1991 during construction work for a federal building. President Bush designated the burial ground as a National Monument February of this year.

The African Burial Ground National Monument is a multi-agency effort, combining the General Services Administration and the National Park Service. The entire burial ground project encompasses three main elements: the memorial commemorating those anonymously buried beneath the site; the Office of Public Education and Interpretation, which will provide information about the burial ground via literature as well as scheduled lectures; and the interpretive center which will offer historical, archeological and cultural background about the site.

“It’s an archeological site; it needs a place like an interpretive center to relay the story to the visiting public, as opposed to visiting a historic site like a building, for example,” Morrison said, adding that the center, which will cost $4.7 million for construction and development, will utilize exhibits and interpretive media to engage the public. The center will be located on the first floor of the Ted Weiss Federal Building on Broadway.

“There will be a 15-minute film…we’re also interested in including oral history of individuals who had been involved during the rediscovery period from a scientific, academic and community activist standpoint,” she said about the center.

Roberta Washington Associates and Amaze Designs are scheduled to present their initial design ideas to the public in late September.