Today the Society’s Cage interpretive installation opens to the public on the National Mall in Washington, DC. SmithGroup, one of the nation’s leading integrated design firms, is the lead sponsor for the project, initiated by a diverse team of designers in their Washington, DC office. The installation’s opening is timed to coincide with the March on Washington, organized by the National Action Network, happening today.
“We were inspired to create the installation following the murders of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor,” explains Dayton Schroeter, lead designer and a principal at SmithGroup. “The pavilion is a real and raw reflection of the conversations about racism happening now. It’s a physical manifestation of the institutional structures that have undermined the progress of Black Americans over the history of this country.”
The designers intend for the installation to place the recent victims killed by police in the context of the 400+ year continuum of racialized state violence in the United States. Weathered steel bars hanging from a steel plate ceiling form a perfect cube atop a raised 15-foot square platform, encircled with educational content around its base. Historical data for four primary institutional forces of racism are expressed on the cube’s perimeter and triangulated within the interior, carving a void into which visitors can enter. Within this void the visitor experiences clashing senses, feeling both the figurative weight of oppression from the bars around and above them, while also being enveloped in an open-air sanctuary for reflection.
“The name Society’s Cage refers to the societal constraints that limit the prosperity of the Black community,” says Julian Arrington, who led the design with Schroeter, and is an architectural designer at SmithGroup. “The pavilion creates an experience to help visitors understand and acknowledge these impacts of racism and be moved to create change.”
Visitors are encouraged to participate in a shared experience upon entering the pavilion. After holding their breath for as long as they can, evoking the common plea among victims of police killings, “I can’t breathe,” visitors then post a video reflection of their experience on social media using the hashtag #SocietysCage. This exercise is meant not only to build empathy but expand the installation’s impact online to allow anyone to participate in this shared exercise.
The pavilion was fabricated by Gronning Design + Manufacturing LLC in Washington, DC, and Mejia Ironworks in Hyattsville, Maryland. A soundscape was commissioned from a pair of composers, Raney Antoine, Jr. and Lovell “U-P” Cooper. Comprised in four movements, totaling 8 minutes and 46 seconds in length in recognition of the time George Floyd suffered under the knee of police, each movement is themed to reflect each of the four institutional forces that sculpted the pavilion’s interior (mass incarceration, police terrorism, capital punishment and racist lynchings).
SmithGroup has partnered with the Architects Foundation to raise funds for their Diversity Advancement scholarship program through the installation.
“The tragedies of George Floyd and many others have cemented clearly upon us that centuries of systemic racism and structural inequality cannot be ‘unseen’ anymore,” said James Walbridge, AIA, Foundation President. “We are all on a new journey together, with compassion and empathy as our shepherds, to make real societal change. Society’s Cage is a timely partnership for us.”
Corporate sponsors include Advanced Thermal Solutions, LLC; Bonstra|Haresign Architects; D|Watts Construction, LLC; Herrero Builders; Kohler; and The Center for Racial Equity and Justice. In-kind donors include Silman and Alan Karchmer Photography. Over 150 individuals have also contributed financial support to the project. Donations continue to be accepted through the Architects Foundation’s portal.
The pavilion will remain on display until September 12, 2020, and then is intended to be exhibited in a new location in the Washington metro region, and eventually tour to other cities across the country.
The Architects Foundation (www.architectsfoundation.org) leads philanthropic efforts to attract, inspire, and invest in a next-generation design community through scholarships and exhibitions. The Architects Foundation owns the historic Octagon building in the nation’s capital, activating the space to demonstrate the value architects and architecture bring to culture.
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