Princeton posed a difficult problem: Create a “marker” to celebrate President Woodrow Wilson that deals effectively with both his positive and negative qualities. The University’s ambivalence is antithetical to the time-honored tradition of unequivocally revering leaders.
The site is a plaza in front of the Wilson School of Government building, designed by Monoru Yamasaki. A large sculpture in the fountain was existing; Princeton stipulated that the fountain, the sculpture and all existing trees were to remain.
The name “Missing voices” speaks directly to the issue that Wilson did not listen to people of color, other minorities and women (he opposed suffrage). His racism caused him to make decisions that did not respect his country’s democratic values.
Benches are comfortable, encouraging gathering and conversation. Used for informal discussion or as an outdoor classroom, they provide needed opportunity for exchange. This is particularly relevant in the context of Wilson’s deaf ear. Alongside the benches is a new wall conceived as canvas. Constructed in translucent concrete, it runs the length of the north boundary. The data-driven light display can be seen both day and night and is activated by quotes that emanate in light from behind its surface; the letters portray the stories of Missing Voices today and historically. The translucent concrete never feels like an empty screen as it has embedded fibers that allow light to pass; it is a strikingly elegant and robust way to provide technology without using a glass or LED monitor.
The digital interface is essential to the relevance of this piece over time. A user can browse through a list of items or enter their own thoughts and then promote them to the digital surface of Missing Voices. An item can immediately populate to the wall or can be scheduled for a specific time. A user can opt to receive a notification or reminder as to when the item will appear. A social sharing option will also promote these items across varied platforms.
The team was motivated in their design by Cecile Guateaume’s quote that, “What we choose to remember and what we choose to forget makes us who we are.” American history is fraught with issues. The best way to move ahead is to understand our past, not the edited school book version but our real past with all the problems. What we realized is that using the first amendment to talk is an important part of democracy, but listening is what makes us great citizens so that we continue to support a government for all people.
Studio Joseph: Wendy Evans Joseph (principal in charge), Monica Coghlan (design associate), Hannah Pavlovitch (designer)Bluecadet: Josh Goldblum (principal in charge, Brad Baer (partner), Devon Burgoyne (designer), Sara Pasch (senior strategist)
Studio Joseph, Bluecadet
Ken Smith Workshop, Silman