Baltimore-based GWWO designed the new Harriet Tubman Underground Railroad Visitor Center to represent the journey to freedom from slavery. Located near Cambridge, Maryland, in the county where the abolitionist and activist was born into bondage, the center serves as a gateway to the Harriet Tubman National Historical Park, which comprises preserved sites including her residence, gravesite and the Tubman Home for the Aged.
“The center aims to engage and educate visitors, and encourages them to leave with a fuller appreciation of Harriet Tubman’s legacy,” says lead designer and GWWO president Alan Reed.
The center consists of two buildings—one administrative and one housing exhibitions—designed around northern views that symbolize escape from slavery. The distance between buildings widens from south to north; the larger distances are a metaphor for freedom while the lack of views to the south recalls the repression of slaveholding states.
The exhibition building encompasses four simple volumes with pitched roofs that echo the local vernacular, one finished in wood siding and three in zinc panels. “The zinc volumes memorialize the fates of the enslaved,” Reed explains. “Be sold, stay in fear of being sold or run away.”
Completed in 2017, the project is LEED Silver-certified and has won AIA awards from the Baltimore and Chesapeake Bay chapters.