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Permanent Memorial at the United Nations in Honor of the Victims of Slavery and the Transatlantic Slave Trade

Rodney Leon won an international UNESCO design competition to erect a memorial to commemorate victims of the Atlantic slave trade. Here’s how the designer talks about the process:

‘”The Ark of Return” memorial is a sacred space that is designed to psychologically and spiritually transport visitors to a place where acknowledgement, education, reflection and healing can take place.

The memorial’s exterior form is constructed in a fashion to reflect the image of a vessel or ship in acknowledgement of the millions of African people transported on slave ships to different parts of the world during the “Middle Passage.”

Images of maps depicting the “Triangular Slave Trade” influenced the use of the triangle as a primary element in designing the memorial’s shape.

The memorial is conceptually also organized in three parts and visitors are meant to pass through “The Ark of Return” to intimately experience three primary elements on the interior space.

  • The first element is a three dimensional map inscribed on the interior of the memorial. This map highlights the African continent at its center and graphically depicts the global scale, complexity and impact of the triangular slave trade in “acknowledgement of the tragedy.”

  • The second element is full-scale human figure lying horizontally in front of a wall inscribed with images of the interior of a slave ship. This is meant to communicate and educate visitors on the physical conditions endured by the millions of African people transported under extreme conditions during the middle passage. The visitors are provided the opportunity to seriously “consider the legacy” of slavery’s impact upon humanity.

  • The third element is a triangular reflecting pool, which introduces water in a meditative, ritualistic and spiritual manner. Visitors are invited to pour libations or say a prayer in memory of the millions of souls that were lost “lest we forget” this monumental and historic tragedy.

MOROZOV were invited to advice the design team at the concept stage. The firm’s engineers were tasked with collaborating with the contractor for the General Assembly renovation in locating and bringing power and water to the sculpture of the Ark.


Ark of Return


Rodney Leon Architects


The United Nations General Assemble Plaza, NY


Full MEP design and construction administration services.  Plumbing and electrical power, construction administration

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