NYS Equal Rights Heritage Center
Auburn, NY

nARCHITECTS was commissioned by the City of Auburn, NY and the New York State Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation to design the New York State Equal Rights Heritage Center and public outdoor space in historic Auburn, NY. The new 7,500sf building houses a permanent exhibition celebrating Auburn’s and New York State’s progressive history of promoting social and equal rights. Exhibition content focuses on abolition, the Underground Railroad, women’s suffrage and LGBTQ rights, with a goal of acquainting visitors with the many attractions connected to equal rights throughout the State.
“The Equal Rights Heritage Center is another example of the importance that New York State places on educating and recognizing its history and honoring those who served as pioneers before us so that we can become trailblazers for future generations,” said New York State Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation Commissioner, Rose Harvey.

The building is designed to frame views of important historical landmarks, including the adjacent Seward House Museum – home of Abraham Lincoln’s Secretary of State and New York State’s 12th Governor – as well as Memorial City Hall and Westminster Church. In this way the immediate context is integrated with the exhibition content. Along with collaborators MTWTF, nARCHITECTS also co-designed the permanent exhibition, integrating interactive displays that bring to life the struggle for equal rights through songs, speeches, games, drugs, portraits, political posters, animated maps and video timelines. One of these elements – the Social Justice Table – brings people together around a circular video display highlighting legislative milestones. The building’s four volumes also includes a Taste NY store, public restrooms, and offices for the Auburn Historic & Cultural Sites Commission and local Business Improvement District.

Balancing its identity as a new addition to Auburn at the edge of the historic district and downtown, the design of the new Heritage Center building seeks to create meaningful connections between past and present with a sensitive contemporary design. Drawing from its historic context, the one-storey building’s form pays particular attention to proportion with large glazing shaped to echo adjacent rooflines and fine brickwork detailing. Angled brick volumes rotate and intersect creating framed views that celebrate the surrounding landscape and significant historic landmarks. Visitors to the center will enjoy the permanent exhibition while connecting to historic Auburn surrounding them.

New York State Equal Rights Heritage Center
Location: Auburn, NY
Program: Cultural heritage center with Equal Rights exhibition + Cayuga County and local tourism exhibition, Taste NY market, and offices.
Completion: Fall 2018

Design Team: Credits: Eric Bunge, Mimi Hoang (Principals); Amanda Morgan (Project Manager), Thomas Heltzel, Wei Wen, David Mora, Kaia Chiu.

Collaborators: Exhibition Design: MTWTF + nARCHITECTS; Landscape/Civil Engineer: Environmental Design & Research; Structural Engineer: Silman; MEP Engineer: OLA Consulting Engineers; Lighting Designer: Lumen Architecture, PLLC; Graphic Design: MTWTF; Traffic Consultant: GTS Consulting; Cost Estimator: Ellana Inc.

Photographs by ©James Ewing/OTTO