Underground Railroad Visitor Center tells story of oppression, then freedom

The museum is conceived as a series of abstracted forms made up of two main structures, one administrative and one exhibit.

August 15, 2017 |
The entry to the Harriet Tubman Underground Railroad Visitor Center

Photo: Dorchester County Tourism

The $21 million, 15,000-sf Harriet Tubman Underground Railroad Visitor Center in Church Creek, Md., uses engaging displays and exhibits to tell the story of Harriet Tubman’s life. The building’s design expresses the importance of traveling northward to escape the circumstances of slavery through an integrated site, building, and exhibit design.

The museum is conceived as a series of abstracted forms made up of two main structures, one administrative and one exhibit. The structures are joined by a shared entry plaza and terrace.

 

The Harriet Tubman Underground Railroad Visitor CenterPhoto: Dorchester County Tourism.

 

The space between the buildings grows wider as visitors move north—a metaphor for freedom—while the view to the south is truncated by the splay of the building—meant to suggest a sense of oppression.

The design firm, GWWO Inc./Architects, used three volumes to memorialize the fates of the enslaved in the region: be sold, stay in fear of being sold, or run away. As visitors make their way north, they can take detours to other parts of the museum to discover and learn. After passing through the museum, visitors are directed toward a memorial garden that heads north before weaving through the site and returning to the beginning. This garden’s path is meant to represent Tubman’s circuitous routes and willingness to return to the region.

 

Some of the exhibits in the Harriet Tubman Underground Railroad Visitor CenterPhoto: Dorchester County Tourism.

 

A series of exhibit galleries, an orientation theater, a museum store, an information desk, a research library, offices, and support spaces are all included in the museum, which opened to the public in March.

 

More exhibits in the Harriet Tubman Underground Railroad Visitor CenterPhoto: Dorchester County Tourism.

Overlay Init