campus news

5/14 commission selects UB architect’s proposal for permanent memorial


Published May 17, 2024

Jin Young Song.
“The awareness and mourning together on-site create a place for ritual, which serves as a protection for our society, instigating people’s minds to stand up to the epidemic of hate. ”
Jin Young Song, associate professor
Department of Architecture

There’s a profound power in the ability of design to bring hope, healing and remembrance. That’s what UB architect Jin Young Song hopes the memorial concept that he and a partner created will bring to the Buffalo community for decades to come.

On Monday, one day before the community gathered to mark the two-year anniversary of the racially motivated mass shooting that killed 10 Black people and injured three others at a Tops grocery store on the city’s East Side on May 14, 2022, the 5/14 Memorial Commission selected Song’s design as the winning entry for a permanent memorial.

Song teamed up with Douglass Alligood on a concept called “Seeing Us.” The families of 5/14 victims and survivors joined New York Gov. Kathy Hochul and other dignitaries on Monday as renderings and a touching animation of “Seeing Us” were unveiled for the first time.

Song, associate professor in the Department of Architecture, School of Architecture and Planning, says he is grateful for the opportunity that lies ahead, but acknowledges that he feels “the weight of the mission on many different levels.”

“Seeing Us” seeks to honor the memory of the 10 Black people who were murdered that day: UB alumna Pearl Young, Ruth Whitfield, Margus D. Morrison, Andre Mackniel, Aaron Salter Jr., Geraldine Talley, Katherine Massey, Roberta A. Drury, Heyward Patterson and Celestine Chaney. The injured survivors are Zaire Goodman, Jennifer Warrington and Christopher Braden.

Song and Alligood’s design consists of 10 interconnected pillars inscribed with the names of victims and survivors, each with a unique arc and height, faced with stone. It also features a sweeping support building that will operate as a central hub for education, exhibitions, community activities, gatherings and events. Visitors will also find an elevated “memorial walk” on the roof of the support building.

“Most importantly, the design has the power of communication. The awareness and mourning together on-site create a place for ritual, which serves as a protection for our society, instigating people’s minds to stand up to the epidemic of hate,” Song says.

There’s a poetry to Song’s architectural explanation of the purpose of the memorial. “I believe memorialization aims to provide a ceremonial and ritualistic space where the act of collectively constructing ‘memory’ serves as our protection against tragedy,” he says.

“Without such a space for memorialization, the burden of sadness and mourning falls solely on the families of victims, survivors and community members. Through the thoughtful architectural design of rituals, we share the burden. We unite and act together at the site, framing ‘togetherness’ as a message and statement that resonates far beyond our immediate context and time. In this way, architecture becomes an agency for social justice.”

The 5/14 Memorial Commission met on Monday to vote on the winning design, selected from among 20 entries that the commission had narrowed down to three finalists. The commission worked with the families of those lost and injured on May 14, 2022, and ultimately chose “Seeing Us” with their input.

“The memorial stands as the embodiment of a physical message — a timeless, accessible space open 24/7, 365 days a year, requiring minimal maintenance. Intentionally fading the support building into obscurity serves to amplify the clarity and simplicity of the memorial’s message within the urban landscape,” Song says.

“Confronting the weight of this message and the sorrow of the tragedy, it leaves no room for architectural styles, aesthetics, traditions or conventions,” he adds.

The architecture, Song points out, is grounded in simplicity: a mound, a walkway, textures and a sunset. The interior of the support building functions as a central hub for education, exhibitions, community activities, gatherings and events. Its roof forms a gentle mound. At the mound’s highest point, visitors encounter the memorial, walking around it to view it in a rich, three-dimensional manner. The memorial is visible from all interior spaces due to the radial planning, akin to an unchanging message.

The final design follows a public engagement campaign that began in May 2023, which included public meetings and a community survey administered through the UB Regional Institute. The 5/14 Memorial Commission community survey gave the public a chance to share their thoughts and feelings about the characteristics and elements included in the 5/14 memorial.

The permanent memorial is expected to cost nearly $15 million. On Monday, the commission officially launched a yearlong campaign to raise the remaining funds needed to break ground. SUNY Trustee and UB alumna Eunice Lewin is one of four fundraising committee chairs who were announced this week.

Hochul previously announced an initial investment of $900,000 and has announced an additional $4.1 million. Buffalo Mayor Byron Brown announced earlier this month that the city of Buffalo would contribute $1 million toward the memorial.