On October 22, 2022, the AIANY Women in Architecture Committee hosted a tour of the award winning African Burial Ground National Monument in downtown Manhattan. The African Burial Ground is the oldest and largest known excavated burial ground in North America for both free and enslaved Africans. It protects the historic role slavery played in building New York. We were honored to have the tour led by Nicole Hollant-Denis, AIA, Founding Principal, Aaris Design Architects.

Prior to the tour of the memorial, we began with a presentation by Nicole of the inspiration and design process, a deeply personal and profound journey which we were honored to partake in. She shared her student thesis exploration of the transatlantic slave trade and how this led to entering a competition to design a memorial to the burial ground when she began her own practice. She explained the significance of this national monument and how it commemorates the sacred site with contemplative spaces that allow visitors to reflect on its history and meaning. The structure physically, spiritually, ritualistically, and psychologically defines the location of the historic reinterment of remains and artifacts. The presentation was a continuation of Hollant-Denis’s design presentation from February 2022.

After the presentation, we viewed a short film that documented New York’s history when enslaved Africans helped build New Amsterdam (the colony’s name before it changed to New York). The African Burial Ground National Monument honors these Africans’ memory and contributions. Their spirit continues to guide visitors’ understanding of enslavement in New York City’s colonial history. The tour concluded with a visit to the memorial, where Nicole explained the significance and meaning behind the symbols, design, orientation and siting. In addition to our group, we were joined by a group of students from Buffalo who happened to be there at the same time, and how delighted they were to meet the designer of the monument!

Nicole ended the tour by sharing with us her inspiration of the Woman King statue – a powerful symbol who represents leadership in a female mindset to push beyond the immediate solutions to one that is less violent and more about working together.

We encourage everyone to visit the African Burial Ground National Monument and Visitor Center, a national park site, located at the Ted Weiss Federal Building at 290 Broadway, between Duane Street and Reade Street.