Island of Memory by Britton Chambers



Britton Chambers, an architecture student at the University of Minnesota, has designed a memorial centre to commemorate the suffering of slaves in 18th and 19th century America.


The project is titled Island of Memory: Memorial to the Dehumanization and Murder of African Slaves within the United States of America. Chambers proposes building the memorial on Shutes Folly Island, South Carolina.


"This project began approximately a year ago when I was travelling through Europe studying monuments and memorials of WWII." explains Chambers. "As I was there I began to notice similarities between the treatment of Jews in 1940’s Europe with the treatment of African slaves in 18th and 19th century America."


"When I returned home, I had hoped to compare the Jewish memorials in Europe to memorials to slavery here in America. However, this was not possible as there was no monument or memorial to slavery in America. Therefore, my proposal is to create the first national memorial to slavery that would preserve the memory of dehumanization of African Slaves in America."


Here's some more information from Chambers:


Island of Memory: Memorial to the Dehumanization and Murder of African Slaves within the United States of America


Project Location: Charleston, South Carolina – Shutes Folly Island


The objective of this project is to create a building that preserves the memory of a culture which, for over two hundred years, faced immeasurable oppression, torture, and murder.


We, as Americans and even more as human beings, are responsible for the actions of our past and must make every effort possible to amend or apologize for the actions of our country.


Slavery is an issue that pertains to all of humanity and its importance far outweighs any cultural or social difference. African Americans share a different understanding of our history, however slavery is a part of our global history as human beings. It can and should be addressed by all people.


I feel that the greatest power of a memorial is its ability to educate current and future generations of people about man’s inhumanity to man.


The lessons learned from this memorial may guide future generations away from the atrocities of the past and promote a more peaceful approach to embracing our differences and understanding our similarities.


This memorial will not take away the pain and sorrow endured by slaves. However, my hope is that this project will help in ameliorating one part of a much greater issue.
















Britton Wade Chambers

University of Minnesota

Posted on Sunday May 25th 2008 at 5:43 pm by . Copyright policy | Comments policy

  • edward

    Highest marks for realistic documentation. The room that suggests a ships hole with a grate/hatch above was particularly powerful. But I wonder if the project might benefit from being more compact and perhaps relating to the fort and the site in a more sensitive way.

  • Mattia

    Exceptional and necessary. Really fine work that I would love to see built as shown.

  • edward

    No disrespect to Mr. Chamber’s fine work, but I would prefer a structure with a smaller foot print on this small spit of land. Say a torus, elevated, recalling the ouroboros in the meaning of all is one, with visitors moving through chambers having the same visceral effect as the design. Just a thought.

  • fly

    is it true that the US has no memorial to slavery ?

  • vico

    Nice renders but looks like a collection of parts from other works spliced together – I’m seeing the mandatory Richard Serra rusting cube, the stair off a winning project in the RIBA President’s Medal two years ago, Kengo Kuma’s ceiling from his Stone Museum…

  • piet faloppa

    Ok for a project. But to think of it seriously, I say no, don’t trivialize Africans’ suffering the same way the Jewish victims’ suffering was. Especially since, as Vico said, this is recycling the same ideas we have in our heads from other models of what a memorial should be.

    I just think most normative memorials end up being trivial in their architectural dramatization and museum-visit agenda. It’s the Hollywood effect applied here; is this necessary, or is there an alternative, less marketable, way to remember?

  • Roy

    The history of slavery in the USA is embedded in the thoughts and culture of the place and the people. The memorial is around us and in us and we all are a part of it.

    A memorial park can be just as effective as a building complex. The FDR Memorial comes to mind.

  • Dekodex

    A little bit pathetic. To much things in one place.

  • future

    it looks like our new project. so i catch some idea!

  • Amelia

    I noble effort but the aesthetic sensibilities seem slightly schizophrenic – fluttering between Middle Eastern/North African mud structures to prison cells – neither of which encapsulate the principle of slavery in the American tradition.

    One room in particular was incredibly striking, with the square hole panels of light in the roof forming a grid over the statues of slaves with their backs faced to the entrance.

    Slavery was a very much out in the open, from the iconic prairies and cotton fields to the shops American citizens would frequent and of course, their most intimate spaces, their home. Perhaps the spacial structure needs to reflect the familiarity of an environment Americans inhabit now, but the feeling of not being a recognised part of it either. Slaves were either machines to be tooled and worked or mindless parts of the scenery akin to furniture to their masters and the public – the building doesn't necessarily evoke this.

  • dylan

    Shutes Folly Island is sinking into the harbour. During a spring tide the entire island disappears. The Castle has sunk 48″ below sea level, so if you remove the fill currently within its walls the building will fill with water. The Castle is also the piece of the island that is not wetlands or oyster shells.

    You can not build anywhere else on the island without adding fill. You should also note that there are plans to further dredge the channel, making the island more unstable.The design is wildly impractical.

    I’d like to applaud your design, but it looks like you dropped a design from another project on an island. You might not have ever been to the island, but if you want to be an architect you should think like one. Your design feels applied. For example, you did not consider that sticking a dock into a tidal channel is absurd.

    More importantly, that Charleston is one of the few cities spared by the Civil War and the people are intensely proud of it. They are equally embarrassed that their harbour took in half of the US slave trade.

    To place a memorial to slavery in the centre of an epicentre of Southern culture may seem fitting, but goes against the spirit of the place entirely and would never happen.

    Your renderings and graphics are wonderful.