Prime Minister Mia Amor Mottley announced that architect David Adjaye will undertake the design of Barbados Heritage District, including a memorial, a major global research institute, and a museum located in Newton Plantation outside of the country’s capital. The facility is dedicated to accurately recounting the historic and contemporary impact of slavery on Barbados and on the lives of individuals, cultures, and nations of the Western hemisphere.
The first phase of the project will be the Newton Enslaved Burial Ground Memorial, a monument to the nation’s enslaved ancestors that will serve as a place of remembrance, honouring those individuals impacted by the effects of forced migration. Located at the Newton Burial Ground, the memorial will provide the emotional, intellectual, and spiritual framework for the scholarly research and public programs that the future centre will generate. Upon completion, it will be the first research institute and resource centre of global stature based in the Caribbean dedicated to exploring the history and enduring impact of slavery and forced migration on the world. The groundbreaking is slated for November 30, 2022, on the first anniversary of Barbados’ status as a Parliamentary Republic.
Rendering of Memorial (bridge start on center north view). © David Adjaye Associates.
Situated adjacent to the Newton Enslaved Burial Ground, where the remains of 570 West African slaves were uncovered through a LIDAR study, the memorial will demarcate a site of tragedy and trauma and transform it into a charged place of commemoration, remembrance, and connection. Aligning the sacred landscape with notions of renewal and rebirth, the memorial addresses a traumatic past whilst celebrating the potential for new futures through an inherently African design in which the cycle of birth to death, born from the Earth and returning, becomes manifest and mediated through architecture.
Stated David Adjaye, “Drawing upon the technique and philosophy of traditional African tombs, prayer sites and pyramids, the memorial is conceived as a space that contemporaneously honours the dead, edifies the living, and manifests a new diasporic future for Black civilization that is both of the African continent and distinct from it.”
Rendering of Memorial (bridge end north view). © David Adjaye Associates.
From the roadside entry point to the site, the visitor’s journey will begin within a monolithic dome pavilion where historical information about the burial ground and slave trade will be presented.
Encapsulating three Earthly elements, the dome is composed of the red laterite earth and is punctuated by an oculus that frames views of the cosmos, and an aquifer that connects to the water underneath the site. Flanked by a field of sugarcane, the southern entry point to the memorial is defined by a gently ascending ramp that floats above the earth and guides visitors towards the memorial structure. A nod to the descendant forest region of West Africa, the memorial is composed predominantly of red mineral earth and timber.
Rendering of Newton Enslaved Burial Ground Memorial (colonnade south view). © David Adjaye Associates.
At the highest point of the sloped site, the memorial culminates in a circular mound composed of Barbadian rammed earth which frames a square field of vertical timber poles. As a means of physicalizing and commemorating the enslaved buried below this sacred earth, the field is punctuated by 570 individual timber beams each capped with circular brass plates oriented towards the sun to catch the Barbadian light. The juxtaposition of a square field within a primary circular form, and the orientation of each timber beam creates a tapestry of interconnected mutations. Both metaphorically and physically, there is an unlocking of connections—a triadic view of the Caribbean waters, extending out to the African continent and up towards the cosmos.
Along the perimeter of the memorial, a floating bench provides a moment for individual reflection, observation, and respite. In contrast, a void defines the centre of the timber colonnade, providing opportunity for libations, ceremonies, and secular events. The duality embedded within this ethereal landscape is heightened as the architecture balances earth and sky, water and land, the ancestors and the living, this world and the next.
Rendering of Memorial (memorial threshold east view). © David Adjaye Associates.
Cover photo: Rendering of Newton Enslaved Burial Ground Memorial (aerial view). © David Adjaye Associates.