February 8, 2021

Society’s Cage by SmithGroup: 2020 Best of Year Winner for Design Unity

Photography by Alan Karchmer.

In the wake of the murders of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor, SmithGroup principal Dayton Schroeter and associate Julian Arrington felt compelled to respond. They wanted to help Americans understand that the killings weren’t isolated events, but part of a 400-year history of systemic racism. The designers conceived of a public installation called Society’s Cage, temporarily erected on the National Mall last summer, based on research into four categories: Black executions; incarceration; death by police; and death by lynching. A 15-foot cube of 484 rusted steel rods presented their findings. On each side of the structure, hanging rods of different lengths formed a simplified graph of the sobering data. “It is literally the shape of institutional racism,” Schroeter notes. Inside, the piece hollowed out into a jagged void, with rods becoming obstacles symbolic of Black Americans’ struggle for survival. Names of racial-violence victims were inscribed underfoot; integrated LEDs and an 8-minute, 46-second soundscape completed the immersive experience. Constructed to make us reckon with our past, the installation also created space for reflection and, the team hopes, empathy and healing.

Photography courtesy of SmithGroup.
Photography by Alan Karchmer.

Project Team: Dayton Schroeter; Julian Arrington; Monteil Crawley; Ivan O’Garro; Julieta Guillermet.

> See the full list of winners and honorees from Best of Year 2020

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