Elemental Architecture

Elemental Architecture

New York, NY


Women's Rights National Historical Park

The National Park Service joined forces with the National Endowment for the Arts to sponsor an open competition to design a monument to the first women’s rights convention in America. The fragmentary remains of the gathering place and the surrounding land would be the centerpiece of the newly established Women’s Rights National Historical Park. An almost ruined building, a lost manuscript: the site challenged designers to create a presence from an absence, a monument to a vanished time that is also a place to gather in the present. 

The monument is a sanctuary, a place of meeting. The simple quadrangle of open space creates a setting for the chapel, but is also a gathering place in its own right. As if by a heaving of the earth, the ground has been transformed into a sloped grass plinth, a natural amphitheater.  Accentuated by the slope, the Chapel’s foundation  its beginning, its support -- remains the datum to the site and, symbolically to the social movement that began here.  From the Chapel, a place of reflection, one contemplates the slope as a new place of meeting relative to the old.The visitor is reoriented towards the Declaration of Sentiments, which, on eleven bluestone panels at the base of the slope, shimmers in letters of stainless steel under gently falling water. Water has significance not only to Seneca Falls and its industrial heritage, but also as a metaphor for that which is alive and ever-changing.  

The garden walls which protect and define the precinct are faced in red sandstone.Where the major ground plane has been sloped, the edges are made with finely-coursed face-bedded bluestone expressive of sheared rock.These materials reflect the scale and character of the town’s fabric. With alterations subsequent to the 1848 Chapel structure removed, what remains are fragments requiring support; reminders of the fragility of the physical structure of a place. Using these and new walls in a fragmentary way allows one to speak about the interdependency of parts, of incompleteness, of creating an enclosed sanctuary without actual barriers.  

The walls of the Chapel are held by slender braces of stainless steel anchored to site walls, and bricks of buff-colored concrete, infill areas requiring support.A flat-seam lead-coated copper covering modestly protects the roof, while at the gable ends, the wooden trusses are dimly revealed through fine stainless steel mesh panels.At the location of the original doorway a stainless steel pivot door symbolically opens only for the yearly celebration of the convention.  

The project was completed in collaboration with Ann Marshall & Ray Kinoshita.

key project features:  
- national competition winner
- publicly bid federal project
- final construction cost 10% below budget
- resolution of complex organizational requirements
- selective modern additions to historic fragments

award-winning design:           
- Federal Design Achievement Award, National Endowment for the Arts
- Build New York Award, General Building Contractors Assoc

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Status: Built
Location: Seneca Falls, United States