Center for Civil & Human Rights
Atlanta, Georgia

On December 10, 1948 the United Nations adopted the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. This human rights declaration which stated "Whereas recognition of the inherent dignity and of the equal and inalienable rights of all members of the human family is the foundation of freedom, justice and peace in the world..." echoed the rights of United States Declaration of Independence set forth on July 4, 1776 "...that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness." These are the rights that Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. reminded the United States of on August 28, 1963 at the March on Washington.

It is within the three major subcategories of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights where the union of the African American Civil Rights movement coalesces with the on-going human rights struggles of people around the world... Right to Life and Liberty; Conscience and Expression; and Right to Human Dignity and issues of race, religion, gender, and sexual identity.

The Center for Civil & Human Rights should be unlike any other cultural museum in the United States or in the world. While racial equality was the centerpiece of the African-American Civil Rights Movement, the call for rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness now extends to human rights struggles around the world and "We Shall Overcome" remains a stalwart battle hymn for those seeking equality and justice. Therefore, the design of the new Center must not rely upon cliches, tropes, and pastiche but the design should manifest the spatial inter-connectedness of human struggles.

The design proposal situates the architecture as an instrument in the streams of human flows, cultural and commercial exchanges, public space and urban life. The intention is to make spatial this cultural context in the "now" and confront the restructuring of social and cultural values brought on by liberated identities and the relationships between civil and human rights.

The design reinforces the urban fabric and conditions of downtown Atlanta emphasizing the local connection to global ideals. For it is the urban realm where democracy and freedom are expressed and new potentials for freedoms of expression emerge.

Additionally, the proposal suspends the Center within the urban space of Atlanta creating dialogue with the adjacent Georgia Aquarium, World of Coca Cola and spatial extension of Centennial Olympic Park. Simultaneously a new public realm is created beneath the building and within the shade of its ideals providing a refuge from the heat of injustice to become an oasis of freedom and justice. This new public realm literally extends the cultural landscape of the Center to the streets of the city to provide spaces for exterior exhibits, outdoor performances, and cultural gatherings.

"No, no,we are not satisfied, and we will not be satisfied until "justice rolls down like waters, and righteousness like a mighty stream." -- Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. August 28, 1963

As a design approach to the Center for Civil & Human Rights this statement from Dr. King holds particular power for it is sought after justice like rolling waters that illustrate the connectivity of the human struggle. These waters resonate in the Negro spiritual "Wade in the Water" and in the choreography of Alvin Ailey's Revelations, which continues to inspire and serves as an ambassadorial spirit to humanity.

The design of the Center for the Civil & Human Rights holds the potential to unite the phenomenology of light and water, the choreography of movement, with the spatial interpretation of the program through the crossing of layered thresholds.

The experience of Center as a journey begins at the waters edge of the upper reflecting pool. Visitors cross the threshold of the water along a ramp as they enter the building and are guided by thresholds of light, columns of light, and a wall of light as they move through the exhibition experience. Water rolls down from the upper reflecting pool creating a stream that leads towards the outdoor amphitheater and culminates in a cooling wellspring of respite. During certain dry seasons the reflecting pools will reveal stone beds that remind us of stones of hope for justice and freedom for all.

As visitors cross time along an internal timeline encountering the histories of the American Civil Rights Movement and transition to Human Rights themes the proposed design makes these themes transparent to the city and the global space beyond. The "Creating a Dialogue" zone is situated along the edge of the exhibit experience between the thematic Human Rights galleries on the interior and the global human experience to the exterior and the world beyond.

The lightness of the Center marks its status as a place of ideals, dreams, freedom, and justice for all. At the approach from the Ellipse the Center appears to float at the horizon as the building does not touch the ground, reflections of light in the reflecting pools dematerialize the top edge of the slope, and the water supported glass entry overhang refracts and scatters light at the entry sequence. Structural steel framed stair cores clad with diffused glazing and a transverse concrete bearing wall that lightly touch the ground at the site's lower elevation support the Center above the amphitheater, exterior exhibits and parking structure. Custom glass columns of light direct diffused sunlight through the building lighting the Civil Rights timeline and illuminating the amphitheater and exterior exhibits below.