In the wake of the murders of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor, SmithGroup principal Dayton Schroeter and associate Julian Arrington felt compelled to respond. They wanted to help Americans understand that the killings weren’t isolated events, but part of a 400-year history of systemic racism.
The designers conceived of a public installation called Society's Cage, temporarily erected on the National Mall last summer, based on research into four categories: Black executions; incarceration; death by police; and death by lynching. A 15-foot cube of 484 rusted steel rods presented their findings.
On each side of the structure, hanging rods of different lengths formed a simplified graph of the sobering data. “It is literally the shape of institutional racism,” Schroeter notes.
Names of racial-violence victims were inscribed underfoot; integrated LEDs and an 8-minute, 46-second soundscape completed the immersive experience. Constructed to make us reckon with our past, the installation also created space for reflection and, the team hopes, empathy and healing.