Design competition turns Africatown into a heritage tourist destination
Africatown is a small but vibrant neighborhood just north of downtown Mobile, Alabama, officially established in 1872 by a group of 32 former West African slaves who were part of a larger group of 110 people illegally smuggled to the Gulf Coast a decade earlier aboard the ship. Clotilda. Today, the history-rich community, which includes the National Register of Historic Places in the Africatown Historic District, serves as the physical and spiritual heart of a sprawling, multi-site “culture mile” proposed as part of a international design ideas competition. at its beginnings. While Africatown and its eponymous design competition will be the subject of a detailed profile to be published in the next July/August print edition of The architect’s journalthe September 19 registration deadline is fast approaching.
Below is a brief overview of the competition with all relevant details.
The Africatown International Design Ideas Competition was first launched on June 16 last year, kicking off a (since extended) entry period in which Africatown has gained international public notoriety through its inclusion as one of 25 global sites in the 2022 edition of the World Monument Fund. World Monument Watch List (WMF) of heritage sites at risk. According to the WMF, the specific threat facing Africatown, which was one of three North American sites to make the 2022 list, is underrepresentation, along with encroaching industrial development and the impacts of climate change on the South side. “The commitment to uplifting underrepresented heritage means more than identifying and preserving material remains of peoples’ pasts,” the New York-based nonprofit explained. “In the case of Africatown in Mobile, Alabama, inclusion in the 2022 watch will bring additional visibility to a shameful episode in history – the last known illegal shipment of slaves from the Kingdom of Dahomey to the United States. .”
Africatown has been nominated for the 2022 World Landmarks Watch List by Professional Competition Advisor Renee Kemp-Rotan on behalf of the Africatown community.
The launch of the competition also comes two years after the discovery of the wreckage of the Clotilde in the marshes of the Mobile River delta. After her final voyage, the ship was set on fire and scuttled because her operators were acting in defiance of an 1808 law effectively banning slave trade between nations. The 2019 discovery of Clotilde has been a catalyst, spurring members of the Africatown community – including many direct descendants of its founders – to embark on a widespread effort to preserve and raise awareness of their home, which has suffered from decades of divestment. As elaborated by the WMF, the discovery of the Clotilde sparked an “avalanche of economic opportunity embraced by the descendant community. Now, the task ahead requires balancing visitor curiosity with lasting community benefits and ensuring that this important part of American history continues to be told by the descendants themselves.
As envisioned by the Africatown International Design Ideas Competition, Africatown would not only be revived and preserved for future generations, but would act as the epicenter of the so-called Africatown Cultural Mile, a cultural heritage tourist destination that strengthens the local economy and spans three different cities. Mobile with neighboring small towns of Chickasaw and Prichard – and four unique sites, both rural and urban: Historic Africatown and Josephine Allen Public Housing Site in Mobile, Africatown Connections Blueways Sites in Chickasaw, and Africatown State Park USA at Prichard. A total of 16 businesses are being considered for Africatown’s Cultural Miles – four at each site – including one Clotilde a boathouse, a genealogy center and a black studies institute, the Africatown Museum and Performing Arts Center, a memorial garden, a “signature spa hotel” and convention center, and Africatown Yacht and Scuba Club.
Collectively, these 16 sites, rooted in history and having a diverse appeal, have the potential “to attract millions of visitors and generate billions of dollars in revenue for the economy of Africatown, the towns of Prichard and of Chickasaw and the Greater Mobile Area”. explained the contest website.
According to the rules of the competition, participants can choose one or more cultural mile sites if they wish, but must submit designs for all four locations assigned to each site.
As detailed on the contest website:
“This multi-site ideas competition seeks architectural concepts using African design principles, creative place building and world-class destination planning. Winning designs must: honor the history of Africatown; anchor current and future redevelopment plans; preserve the unique cultural identity of Africatown; and to stimulate the economic revitalization of the community.
Designs should incorporate the latest digital technologies, imbued with “Wakanda Forever” Afrofuturist sensibilities. Additionally, LEED architectural standards and ways to produce sustainable green energy solutions are encouraged.
As mentioned, the contest deadline has been extended since it launched last year, with the entry deadline now falling on September 19. Design proposals must be submitted by January 19, 2023; winning design submissions will be announced two months later on March 19. The competition, which includes a total cash prize of up to $100,000 for first, second and third place winners, is open to everyone: architects, landscape architects, students, urban planners and historians are all encouraged to enter and to submit. Individuals as well as multidisciplinary teams of up to four members are allowed to participate.
As for the competition jury, made up of 16 people, it is divided equally between eight design professionals and eight local community leaders. Join jury president Jack Travis, architect and author of African-American architects: in current practice, on the professional side are: Mario Gooden, a New York-based architect, author, educator and new president of the Architectural League of New York; William A. Gilchrist, designer, planner and expert in the vernacular architecture of coastal Africa, who is director of planning and construction for the city of Oakland, California; Kwesi Daniels, head of the architecture department at the Robert R. Taylor School of Architecture and Construction Science at Tuskegee University and former editor of NOMA magazine; Nmadili Okwumabua, urban planner, educator and founder of Community Planning & Design Initiative Africa (CPDI Africa); Dr. Natalie S. Robertson, historian, scholar and author of The slave ship Clotilda and the creation of AfricaTown USA; Dr. Michael Blakely, esteemed biological anthropologist and author of The Rubric: Engaging Descendant Communities in Interpreting Slave History; and Kamau Sadiki, a research diver who is president of the National Association of Black Scuba Divers and lead diver of the nonprofit Diving with a Purpose.
You can read more about the full jury here.
And don’t forget to keep an eye out for our next feature on the Africatown International Ideas Competition.