January 31, 2015

2014 BOY Winner: Exhibition

In a darkened corner of the National Center for Civil and Human Rights, Barry Richards sits at a replica of a segregated lunch counter. The principal and studio leader, who designed the exhibitions with Interior Design Hall of Fame member David Rockwell, puts on a pair of headphones. Angry taunts, threats, and menacing breathing fill his ears. Even though Richards knows what’s coming next, he’s still unnerved by it—the physical sensation that someone is violently kicking his stool. This goes on for several minutes. He manages to get through it without needing the one out-of-place object on the lunch counter: a box of tissues.

Visitors use up a lot of tissues at this cultural venue, as much living theater as museum. With ex­hibitions filling 18,000 square feet of a building by the Freelon Group, now part of Perkins + Will, the project represents Rockwell’s fourth collaboration with Tony Award–winning director George C. Wolfe, the center’s chief creative officer. Artfully paced props, video screens, photography, graphics, lighting, recorded voices, and music create dramatic tension, turning a series of black-box galleries into a time-traveling emotional roller coaster that jolts visitors at every turn, from Jim Crow and the Freedom Riders to the assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr.

Project Team: Alin Tocmacov; Matt Grasso; Amanda Zaitchik.

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