Architect Unveils Design For Emanuel AME Church Memorial

More than three years after a white supremacist opened fire in Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, S.C., killing nine worshippers, an architect has revealed a design for a memorial at the church.

The design by Michael Arad features two large and curving stone benches, a gentle fountain and a garden space “dedicated to life and resiliency.”

Arad, along with landscape architect Peter Walker, designed the Sept. 11 memorial in New York City after he won an international design competition.

The design for The Mother Emanuel Nine Memorial in Charleston “has been in the works for more than a year,” the Charleston Post and Courier reports, “a result of a quiet collaboration among survivors, families of the nine deceased church members, the congregation, other civic leaders” and Arad, who is a partner at Handel Architects in New York.

The newspaper writes that Arad was selected for the project without submitting drawings or a proposed design. Instead, he was asked to write essays about forgiveness and his approach to design.

“I think that was very wise,” he told the Post and Courier. “For me to suggest what should be built here without any knowledge of who is involved and what their feelings are and what their hopes and aspirations are would be beyond presumptuous.”

After speaking with the community, Arad developed a design that incorporates a garden space, a memorial courtyard and two “fellowship benches” facing each other across a marble fountain.

“An opening between the two benches widens towards the entrance, welcoming strangers to enter and join in community,” Handel Architects wrote in a design statement. “The high backs of the benches arc up and around, like sheltering wings. They provide a sense of enclosure, and like a pair of arms, [cradle] visitors inside this space.”

The fountain features the name of the nine people killed in the shooting: The Rev. Sharonda Coleman-Singleton, Cynthia Graham Hurd, Susie J. Jackson, Ethel Lee Lance, the Rev. DePayne Vontrease Middleton Doctor, The Hon. Rev. Clementa Pinckney, Tywanza Kibwe Diop Sanders, the Rev. Daniel Lee Simmons Sr. and Myra Singleton Quarles Thompson.

“The design reminds me of so many different things,” William Dudley Gregorie, a member of the Charleston City Council who attends the church known as Mother Emanuel, said in a statement shared by the church and the memorial foundation. “It reminds me sometimes of a ship for enslaved people who were going to freedom. Sometimes it reminds me of the wings of angels. Sometimes it reminds me just of the arms of God.”

Currently, the area around the church includes parking lots, air-conditioning units and a ramp, the Post and Courier notes.

The proposed memorial design was shared with the community at Mother Emanuel 200th anniversary service on Sunday.

“One of the first things I remember Rev. [Eric S.C.] Manning saying when we began this process is that we must keep the church in the middle of this process,” Arad said at the presentation, according to Charleston City Paper. “The church is at the heart of everything we’ve done here and I hope you see that.”

The design was presented to families of the victims two weeks ago, the Charleston City Paper reports, and still needs to be approved by the city.

Building and maintaining the memorial will cost at least $15 million, which must be raised by a foundation associated with the church, The New York Times reports.

Meanwhile, the Charleston community is also fundraising for an African-American museum and the Mother Emanuel church is seeking “several million dollars for badly needed repairs and renovations,” the Times writes.

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