The NYS Equal Rights Heritage Center was commissioned to celebrate the Finger Lakes region’s pivotal role in the abolition, suffrage, civil rights, and LGBTQ movements. As the adopted hometown of Harriet Tubman, William Seward, and other figures central to struggles for equal rights, the city of Auburn is well positioned to tell a wider story. The center creates meaningful connections between past and present, educating and guiding visitors virtually and physically through its historical and social contexts.
Four angled brick volumes hinge open to frame views of the surrounding landscape and historic sites beyond, through the lens of the exhibition inside. The permanent exhibition, co-designed by nARCHITECTS, brings to life the causes and individuals connected to this history through songs, speeches, games, portraits, political posters, animated maps, and video timelines.
We also conceived the center as Auburn’s living room – a flexible interior and exterior space that evolves with the community’s needs. The building and new public plaza host numerous community programs, including a farmers market, concerts, talks, and meetings. The inherent flexibility of the interior and plaza spaces offers users a welcoming experience. The result is not only a trailhead to historic sites, but also a portal for community interactions.
The building’s luminous interior is characterized by natural and durable materials including board-formed concrete and an exposed timber-framed roof.
The reduced material palette includes a rose-colored brick, chosen to relate to the houses on historic South Street. The use of concrete as both structure and interior finish helped the project meet an ambitious schedule: 18 months from concept to completion.
Client: City of Auburn, NY, and the New York State Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation
Location: Auburn, NY
Dates: 2017 – 2018
Sq Footage: 7,500sf
Program: Cultural heritage center with Equal Rights exhibition + Cayuga County and local tourism exhibition, Taste NY market, and offices. Scope included design of new public plaza and streetscape.
Environmental: Geothermal heating and cooling
Design Team: Eric Bunge, Mimi Hoang | Amanda Morgan, Thomas Heltzel | Wei Wen, David Mora, Albert Figueras
Collaborators: Exhibition Design: MTWTF and nARCHITECTS | Structure: Silman | MEP: OLA Consulting Engineers | Civil/Landscape: EDR | Lighting: Lumen Architecture | Graphics: MTWTF | Traffic: GTS Consulting | Surveying: PJO
Photography: Iwan Baan, James Ewing