UVA Arts, University of Virginia

Vol 11 Winter 19 Library
Elgin Cleckley
School of Architecture

Mapping African American History

Mapping was designed and fabricated at the School of Architecture by the following students from the Schools of Architecture and Engineering: Siddarth Velamakanni, My-Anh Nguyen, Rosalie Reuss, Michael Tucker, David Reis, Davis Eddy, Arthur Brown and Hutch Landfair. Elgin Cleckley Assistant Professor of Architecture and Design Thinking, served as the faculty advisor on this project. Garth Anderson, Facilities Management historian, was an integral collaborator. The project team would like to thank Dean Ila Berman, Mark Kutney at UVA’s Facilities Management, Melissa Goldman, Dick Smith, Anselmo Canfora, the Fab Lab at the School of Architecture, Elizabeth Turner, Beth Meyer, Sarah Barnes, Special Collections, the UVA Garden Club, and the Je§erson Trust for their support.

The history we are presented — both in content and in form — shapes how and what we learn about our past and the lessons it teaches us about our future. Seeing history in front of us, as a visual and embodied narrative, allows us to appreciate the triumphs, as well as absences within our collective histories, and the paths they suggest for our futures — with the hope that we can move forward. This expression of hope is founded on inclusivity and permeates the lessons of Mapping – African American History at UVA, an exhibition being presented through January 2020 in the West Oval Room of the Rotunda that reveals new insights into the University's cultural landscape. The collaborative, cross-disciplinary, student-led project exhibits the documentation of the President's Commission on Slavery and the University, expanding upon the existing Enslaved African Americans Walking tour within the Academical Village, offering a tangible way of telling a more complete story of its construction. The project began in 2016 with a grant from the Jefferson Trust, said its director, Assistant Professor Elgin Cleckley, who graduated with a degree in Architecture from UVA in 1993 and practiced as a designer for several years before returning to join the faculty. "I returned to UVA and was pleased to discover that through the work being done by the President's Commission on Slavery and the University, and the credible systems of delivery going on about this period in African American history at UVA." Cleckley directed a group of students (from Architecture and Engineering) on the project, including, My-Anh Nguyen, Siddarth Velamakanni, Rosalie Reuss, Michael Tucker, David Reis, Davis Eddy, Arthur Brown, and Hutch Landfair. "I find the whole project exciting, for the opportunity to meld the exhibition within the social space of the Rotunda," Cleckley said. "I believe that once something takes on a physical form, it becomes heightened. Building on the map that introduces staff, faculty, students, and visitors to African American life during the University's early history, this exhibition amplifies the power of design to bring people together, including people from a variety of diverse backgrounds and locations. I focus in my pedagogy, initiatives, and practice on ways to think about human connection through architecture in the physical world through ‘empathic design.' My work and teaching is built around this idea of how to connect in a specific way that allows you to begin to imagine lived experiences, not your own.” One of the ways the exhibit accomplished this is through a change in perspective. The exhibition features the slates tiles we see on the Pavilion roofs today, as well as tiles made by the enslaved, provided by Mark Kutney of Facilities Management. Cleckley explains how My-Anh Nguyen (Arch ‘19) suggested to the team to “orient the slate tiles in the opposite direction – from the perspective of the enslaved who would occupy this view, high up on the Pavilion roofs. Design — through scale, materiality, and sequence — can have that sort of surreal and perceptual effect. I have watched people pause and try to figure it out, to try to understand how to connect with the material artifacts as they would have been experienced in the past. I think it really captures the incredible power of how materials, that the ubiquitous blue/black slate of the Academical Village, tells this important narrative.”

(Photo: Elgin Cleckley)

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