How do you memorialize a culture that is threatened but not extinct? The Gullah/Geechee people, descendants of the first slaves from West Africa who have maintained a unique cultural identity, are increasingly threatened by development and tourism both on their native Sea Islands and in urban centers such as Charleston, SC. This project explores how two hypothetical proposals can reconstruct a painful narrative by putting the threat of development and tourism into Gullah hands. Implementing this strategy in two contexts created a productive dialog, reinforcing essential aspects of Gullah culture pervasive throughout the Low Country.
The Living Memorial on St. Helena Island, situated at one of the last remaining shoreline parcels, is a collectively owned and publicly accessible eco-farm for tourism and the preservation of traditional Gullah farming techniques. The proposal explores how ecotourism can economically and culturally sustain the self-sufficient Gullah way of life, immersing visitors in Gullah rituals and a transient landscape of water, earth, and architecture. Reawakening marginalized space, the site memorializes the culture’s past, while adapting to a changing future. The site plan references both the gridded parcels of land subdivided by the government for purchase by former slaves, and the subsequent denial of that grid, as Gullah have organically built homes on heirs property through the logic of community proxemics. The architecture appears to either float or become embedded in the earth, subverting ‘service’ and ‘served’ relationships that have historically been imposed upon slave communities.