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Valentine Museum Announces Monument Avenue Design Competition Winners

VPM Intern Alan Rodriguez Espinoza

The Valentine Museum in Richmond announced Wednesday night the winners of a competition that encouraged artists and architects to use design to reimagine Monument Avenue.

The competition is called Monument Avenue: General Demotion, General Devotion. Camden Whitehead, an associate interior design professor at Virginia Commonwealth University and the competition director, says the competition challenged designers to address the avenue’s confederate history while maintaining its architectural legacy.

“From a landscape architecture standpoint, from an urban planning standpoint, it’s an iconic street in this country. People all over the country know Monument Avenue,” Whitehead said. “And yet, there are those confederate monuments which represent a history that we’re not proud of.”

A total of 68 entries were submitted from four different countries and 11 different U.S. states. The 20 finalist designs are on display at the Valentine until December 31. Lori Garrett, Robert Riddle and Neil Walls of Glave & Holmes Architecture were awarded for their proposal, Bound.

“We created a permanent exhibit space that would encircle the Lee statue that could actually provide a place where people could learn the full story about why those statues were erected, who erected them and what it meant at the time that they were erected,” Garrett said.

She says the main idea of the proposal was to provide context to the statues. Bound also proposed temporarily winding the confederate statues tightly with rope, transforming their appearance while preserving their shape. 

“Rope was something that was actually used by the people to pull those statues and other statues to the streets… so on the one hand, rope represented this community literally pulling together.” Garret says. “On the other hand, rope represents bondage, and even more horribly, lynchings, and so the way that rope can be sort of nuanced and seen as representing both good and bad I thought was symbolic of this overall issue.”

Whitehead says design can be a significant tool in the national discourse regarding confederate monuments. He says design can “focus a discussion” and help illustrate different perspectives.

“It allows us to expand the possibilities of what we can imagine. It allows to show people who are not designers possibilities that they’ve never considered, never have thought of and in a way diffuse people from polarized positions into a place where they can talk about a proposal — its merits, its deficiencies — in a calm and civil way.”

Whitehead says he hopes these competitions will continue encouraging conversations around other controversial architectural and urban planning decisions that have been made in Richmond’s past. He says the way in which I-95 highway cut through the Jackson Ward neighborhood is one of particular interest.

“At the time that cut through, Jackson Ward was one of the healthiest African American economic centers in the country,” Whitehead said. “It split that neighborhood in half and the north half became public housing projects, and the southern half then started eroding and the black population there really disintegrated.”

The finalist designs for the Monument Avenue: General Demotion, General Devotion competition remain on display at the Valentine and can also be found online. The four winning teams received $2,000 for their designs.

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