Designing Memory

Memorials and monuments have long served as sites of reflection and memory. These sites are increasingly being designed as living spaces that are in response to ongoing crises to bring attention to systemic issues and call for policy changes. Amidst this shift, how can we reimagine these spaces as sites not only of grief and remembrance but also collective action? Who are the authors and audiences of these spaces? And what role do designers play in visualizing and spacializing loss, grief, and trauma? 

Please join the Chicago Architecture Biennial for Designing Memory, a program featuring Jha D Williams, Senior Associate and Co-Director of the Public Memory and Memorials Lab at MASS Design Group, and Dr. Patricia Nguyen, artist and memorial designer for the Chicago Torture Justice Memorial Project. Williams and Nguyen will speak about how projects they are involved with center the voices of survivors and work to memorialize the past while acknowledging the present.


Jha D Williams is a Senior Associate and Co-Director of the Public Memory and Memorials Lab at MASS Design Group. As a Project Manager, she has contributed to the Gun Violence Memorial Project, Franklin Park Action Plan and Kendall School Division II Memorial. Outside of architecture, Jha D is a spoken word artist and event producer focused on the narratives of LGBTQ+ communities of color.

Patricia Nguyen, Ph.D. is an Assistant Professor in Asian American Studies and Council for Race and Ethnic Studies at Northwestern University, where she also earned her Ph.D. in Performance Studies. Her research and performance work examines state violence, the prison industrial complex, critical refugee studies, political economy, forced migration, intergenerational trauma, torture, and nation-building in the United States and Vietnam. Community-based praxis and experimentation is a fundamental ethos of her work as an artist and scholar committed to abolition. She has published work in Women Studies Quarterly, Harvard Kennedy School's Asian American Policy Review, Women and Performance, and The Funambulist. In recent news, Dr. Nguyen is an award-winning memorial designer for the Chicago Torture Justice Memorial Project, the first monument in the United States to honor survivors of police violence.


MASS Design Group, or Model of Architecture Serving Society, began with the design and construction of the Butaro District Hospital in Rwanda, a project of Partners in Health and the Rwandan Ministry of Health. The partnership evolved into a nonprofit architecture and design collective that works to advance justice, promote dignity, and improve human and community health through mission-driven design processes. Understanding that architecture is never neutral, MASS leverages design to improve the human and physical systems necessary for health, justice, and equity. Its practice strives to demonstrate that great design can engage civic responsibility, deliver economic and social outcomes, and inspire by bringing beauty and dignity to those most often denied or displaced by architecture. Among MASS’s critically acclaimed projects are the National Memorial for Peace and Justice in Montgomery, Alabama; the Kigali Genocide Memorial in Rwanda; and The Embrace, a public sculpture in Boston made in collaboration with the artist Hank Willis Thomas, honoring Coretta Scott King and Martin Luther King Jr.

Chicago Torture Justice Memorials (CTJM) aims to honor and to seek justice for the survivors of Chicago police torture, their family members and the African American communities affected by the torture.

CTJM began in 2010 when a group of attorneys, artists, educators, and social justice activists, put out a call for speculative memorials to recall and honor the two-decades long struggle for justice waged by torture survivors and their families, attorneys, community organizers, and people from every neighborhood and walk of life in Chicago.

Tom Harris, 2019