Located along the Loire riverfront in the center of the city of Nantes, this memorial, designed by Wodiczko + Bonder, is a metaphorical and emotional evocation of the struggle for the abolition of slavery. With the aim of being above all historic, the project still continues into the present and proposes a physical transformation and symbolic reinforcement of 350 meters of the coast of the Loire along Quai de la Fosse. This working memorial includes the adaptation of a pre-existing underground residual space, a product of the construction of the Loire embankments and port during the XVIII, XIX, and XX Centuries. It provides space and means for remembering and thinking about slavery and the slave trade; commemorating resistance and the abolitionist struggle; celebrating the historic act of abolition; and for bringing the visitor closer to the continuing struggle against present-day forms of slavery. More images and architects’ description after the break.
By shedding light over difficult pasts and presents, both in Nantes and the world, and as an ethico-political, urban, artistic, landscape and architectural project, this new public space, and urban landscape, hopes to become an agent and catalyst for transformative action, human rights activism, and civic engagement. Articulating ideas for this Memorial and working on this public space in Nantes required facing a multitude of complex artistic, design, architectural, historical, ethical and social questions: Could this project work through difficult memories, past and present injustices, collective traumas, while inviting the public to engage in difficult and necessary transformative, pedagogic, healing and re-constructive work? Could we envision this as a site-specific memorial that -while working on the legacies of Slavery and the Slave Trade and the abolitionist movement- will frame collective and spontaneous acts of remembrance? Could such a Memorial contribute to envision a better world, by inviting and demanding from visitors to actively engage in continuing the abolitionist struggle towards a world free of slaves and oppression?
A Memorial’s historic destiny is to preserve the memory of the past and provide conditions for new responses. As our psycho-political and ethical companions, memorials should function as environments for thinking through past and present, fostering the appearance of a new critical consciousness in democratic public space. Memorial, Memento, Monument, like “Monitor”, or a guide, suggest not only commemoration, but also be aware, to mind and remind, warn, advise, and call for action. As both commemorative, transformative and site specific, this project is shaped by an awareness of the challenges and complexity that the theme presents to future generations. Our attempt is to engage the visitor in the search for memory, through absences of direct signs, making palpable the idea of opening up spaces for memory to be found within.
Embedded on the ground of the city (of every city) there are stories to be uncovered and unearthed. Nantes is a city that has decided to confront its own difficult past, as the premier slave trading port in France, with about 45 % of all 4000 French Slave Trading Expeditions. This project entails a complex challenge, as it need to weave together multiple threads of the memory of slavery and the slave trade for new generations, who, removed from the historical events, could fathom only with great difficulty. The project is based in the site and situation of Nantes, one that already speaks of and for itself as a “witness”. Its design proceeds through two fundamental gestures, exposure and immersion, which together create a literally layered, in-depth experience through which visitors may discover and interpret for themselves the evoked dimensions of a history, and of a place, they may think they already know.
The transformation of this „found space‟ into public space required very complex engineering in order to construct a protective ‘cuvelage’ (a dam under the old structures) due to tides of Loire (more than 4 meters daily). Between Pont Anne de Bretagne and Passarelle Victor Schoelcher, glass inserts, evoking the magnitude of the slave trade and the memory of slave-vessels, were set into the Commemorative Ground. From the public esplanade, visitors may access the “Passage”, on either end, to find themselves in a long space enclosed by the pre-existing 19th Century embankment wall and the 20th Century embankment concrete structures. The monument celebrates the great rupture of abolition with the thrust of a great slanted Glass plate, which emerges to the city as spade that cuts the soil. On this Glass Wall selected texts from different continents touched by slavery and forms of human trafficking and from periods spanning 5 centuries of struggle (XVII Century to XXI Century) can be found.
Beyond its symbolic purpose, the memorial will be used as a space for testimonies and as a special meeting site during the bi-annual human-rights forum to be held in Nantes. This would thus confirm the specificity of this site as a responsive site of memory and of struggle. Signaling the contemporary work of liberation that courageously goes on will serve to remind us that the work of abolition that culminated in 1848 was not in vain, and that perhaps its work will one day hopefully be no longer necessary.
Architects: Wodiczko + Bonder
Location: Nantes, France
Consultants: Thomas Long, Design Collaboration & Visualization, Graphic Design; Snehal Intwala, Nicholas Capone, James Shen, Ryan McClain, Bill Panasuik, Emmanuelle Chérel (Research),; Patrick Charles (Design & Technical Consultant); Maximo Rohm, Ron Henderson, Michael Blier, (Landscape Consultants – USA)
Glass Consultants: James Carpenter, James Carpenter Design Associates (preliminary phase); RFR Engineurs, Paris – Philippe Bompas & Nicolo Baldassini (development & construction)
Historic Advisors: David Blight, Gilder Lehrman Center on Slavery, Resistance & Abolition, Yale University; Sven Beckert, Harvard University; Kirk Savage, Pittsburgh University; Vince Brown, Duke University
Ville de Nantes – Nantes Métropole: Jean-Marc Ayrault, Former Député-Maire de Nantes / Current French Prime Minister; Yannick Guin, conseiller municipal; Octave Cestor, conseiller municipal; Marie-Hélène Jouzeau, directrice Patrimoine et tourisme; Hervé Guégan, chef de projets, Atelier urbain, Nantes Métropole; Jean-Pierre Brindel, directeur Atelier urbain, Nantes Métropole; Aurélie Roger, directeur projets Atelier urbain, Nantes Métropole
Maitre D’Oeuvre: Arcadis Engineurs, Gildas Legall, Bruno Vasseur, Francois Bailly; Roulleau Architectes, Nantes – Michel Roulleau, Jean Marie Beslou
Construction: General Construction: DLE Ouest, Nicholas Boterf; Glass Wall: Polar, Torino, Paolo Cherasco; Inserts: Atelier Barrois, Brioude, Emmanuel Barrois; Lighting: Citelum, Nantes; Landscape: ISIS Espaces Vertes, Nantes; Steel/Metals: CMR, St. Nazaire, Nantes