Behind the Design of the Historic Richmond Slave Trail - Design Bureau

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The markers along the Richmond Slave Trail give a narrative of our country’s dark past

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Local fishermen have put the markers’ CorTen steel supports to creative use. “They built a fire beneath the slanted face of the marker and were using ita as a shad grill for their fresh catch,” Pinnock says. “The thought that these markers can easily be made functional is somehow comforting.”

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A map of the stops along the Richmond Slave Trail and its stops

Behind the Design of the Historic Richmond Slave Trail

Wednesday, January 2nd, 2013

FIRM / BAM ARCHITECTS

LOCATION / RICHMOND, VA 

PRINCIPAL ARCHITECTS / BURT PINNOCK, ANNE DUR KIN, AND MARY LORINO

PROJECT TYPE / PUBLIC PLACE

PHOTOGRAPHER / ANSEL OLSON

Through the heart of Richmond runs the Richmond Slave Trail, a 2.3 mile path that chronicles the city’s place in history as the east coast epicenter of the American slave trade. The route runs past former key sites that played an active role in the trade business—the Manchester Docks, the Richmond Slave Market, and the auction houses, just to name a few—each identified by discreet markers that tell of the city’s checkered history. “We set out to create a system of environmental signage that identified nine existing sites,” says Burt Pinnock, the project lead behind the markers.

But once the work began, BAM quickly realized they needed to “fill in the gaps” in order to make the history complete. “We added an additional eight sites, providing the written content and images,” he says. Using primary sources at the University of Virginia, The Library of Virginia, and the Histor- ical Society of Virginia, BAM pulled together a narrative that communicates the historical significance of each trail stop, and, wherever possible, engages the visitor with a first-person narrative of an event that took place on the spot. “Before the project was completed, visitors to the trail relied upon a single bifold pamphlet,” Pinnock says. “The overall contribution to the more complete understanding of this city’s history and role in the ‘peculiar insti- tution’ of slavery is what we are most proud of.”