Current Work: Africatown, A Collaborative Approach

Africatown International Design Idea Competition winners discuss their designs for the historically layered site and the collaborative process behind their submissions.

October 18, 2023
7:00 p.m.

Left: WXY architecture + urban design | Training School, Site 1B, Mobile, AL, design proposal. Image courtesy WXY architecture + urban design. Center: Body Lawson Associates, Architects & Planners | Africatown Site 3 overall plan, Mobile, AL, design proposal. Image courtesy Body Lawson Associates, Architects & Planners. Right: Jerome Haferd Studio | "In The Wake," Africatown Site 2: Josephine Allen Site, Mobile, AL, design proposal. Image courtesy Jerome Haferd

Current Work is a lecture series featuring leading figures in the worlds of architecture, urbanism, design, and art.

In 2023, the Current Work series will look at collaborative design processes across scales, from urban design to individual buildings. In an effort to reflect the many disciplines that are involved in the processes of design and building, rather than focusing on individual practitioners or firms, each event will instead explore a single project or instance of collaboration.

Inspired by the nearby 2019 discovery of the Clotilda, the last known ship used to transport enslaved Africans to the United States, sunk in the Mobile River Delta, the Africatown International Design Idea Competition gave design teams the opportunity to imagine a revived Africatown. Encouraging architectural concepts using African design principles, creative placemaking, and destination tourism planning, the competition engaged a jury of sixteen local leaders and design professionals to evaluate proposals for four land and water-edged sites across three cities in southern Alabama.

Architecture firms WXY architecture + urban design, Body Lawson Associates, Architects & Planners, Jerome Haferd Studio, Total Consult, and Elizabeth Kennedy Landscape Architecture formed the team “Blood Memory,” alluding to the seven fires prophecy of the Anishinaabe Nation. The group developed a shared design vision, vocabulary, and material scheme to support their individual submissions in a collaborative approach befitting the scale and ambition of the competition and the historically layered landscape.

Announced on Juneteenth 2023, the jury awarded first prize to WXY architecture + urban design for Site 1: Historic Africatown, Jerome Haferd Studio for Site 2: Josephine Allen Public Housing Site, and Body Lawson Associates, Architects & Planners for Site 3: Africatown Connections Blueway Site out of 110 submissions. 

Presentations from the three firms about their winning collaboration will be followed by a conversation moderated by jury member and president of the Architectural League Mario Gooden, as well as a response from competition organizer Renee Kemp-Rotan, and audience Q&A.

Historic Africatown (Site 1)
WXY architecture + urban design
The WXY design team, led by architects of the African and Caribbean diaspora, sought to reflect the community’s cultural heritage through the creation of monuments, memorials, and interpretive sites: a Memorial Garden, Training School, Housing Prototype, and Ancestral Gateway. Driven by research into the Africatown community’s cultural lineage and a commitment to sustainability, the four site components are designed to preserve the historic settlement’s heritage and ensure its future.

Josephine Allen Public Housing Site (Site 2)
Jerome Haferd Studio
Titled “In the Wake,” the Jerome Haferd Studio team proposed a comprehensive site plan that interweaves an intentional floodplain with the four venues of Site 2: a new Africatown Museum and adjacent Clotilda Boathouse Archive for the display of a replica of the Clotilda slave ship, as well as design concepts for over 300 units of “maritime housing,” and a ceremonial Gateway of Baptism, which creates a public plaza connecting land and water.

Africatown Connections Blueway Site (Site 3)
Body Lawson Associates, Architects & Planners
The Body Lawson design team proposed a series of water-based interventions to reconnect the Africatown community to the water, symbolically and practically. Their plan for Site 3, “Deep Waters,” contains the ceremonial Progenitor Gateway, an interpretive trail of 15 pavilions, the Africatown Yacht Club community facility, and the Africatown Boat Fleet made up of electric and solar boats, as well as canoes and kayaks.


Farida Abu-Bakare is the director of global practice at WXY architecture + urban design. Abu-Bakare brings 10 years of global experience to her role, having worked throughout Africa, Canada, the Middle East, and the United States on a range of typologies, including aviation, cultural, healthcare, justice, residential, and urban design projects.

Victor Body-Lawson is a Nigerian architect, educator, and artist based in New York City. He founded Body Lawson Associates, Architects & Planners (BLA) in 1993. BLA’s impact in affordable housing includes over 4,000 homes in supportive, workforce, transitional and senior settings, in addition to their larger portfolio. In 2021, Body-Lawson was recognized with the Leader in Housing Award by the AIA New York Chapter. He is an associate professor at Columbia GSAPP.

Jerome Haferd is a licensed architect, public artist, and educator based in Harlem, NYC. He is principal of JEROME HAFERD studio. An assistant professor at City College’s Spitzer School of Architecture, Haferd’s work on complex sites includes collaborations with the Harlem African Burial Ground and the National Black Theatre. Haferd is also a core initiator of Dark Matter U (DMU), a BIPOC-led network geared towards new models of design pedagogy and practice. 

Vickii Howell is a journalist, strategist, and community builder working in Birmingham and Mobile, Alabama. She is the founder and president of M.O.V.E. (Making Opportunities Viable for Everyone) Gulf Coast Community Development Corporation, a nonprofit organization working to create supportive economic development ecosystems in historically underserved communities. She served as the competition coordinator for The Africatown International Design Idea Competition.

Renee Kemp-Rotan is an urban designer, master planner, and the CEO of studiorotan, a cultural heritage/civic design firm. The first African American woman to graduate from Syracuse University with a bachelor’s degree in architecture, Kemp-Rotan has directed national design and cultural initiatives, including the Birmingham Civil Rights Heritage Trail, and teaches and lectures on cities, race, and cultural heritage. She served as the professional competition advisor for The Africatown International Design Idea Competition.

Claire Weisz  is a founding partner of WXY architecture + urban design, whose work as an architect and urbanist focuses on innovative approaches to public space, structures, and cities. Founded in 1998, The New York City-based firm’s award-winning projects range from the Spring Street Garage / Salt Shed to the vision for Governor’s Island Climate Solution Center. In 2018, Weisz was awarded the Medal of Honor from AIANY and was honored with the Women in Architecture Award by Architectural Record in 2019.

Online respondents (live via Zoom)

Anderson Flen is a founder of the Africatown Heritage Preservation Foundation and the former president of the Mobile County Alumni Training School Association. Flen served as a juror for Sites 1 and 3.

Darron Patterson is the co-founder and former president of the Clotilda Descendents Association. He is a direct descendant of Pollee Allen, co-founder of Africatown and one of the last Africans to be illegally enslaved  in America. Patterson served as a juror for Site 2.

Major Joe Womack is a founder of the Africatown Heritage Preservation Foundation. He leads the non-profit organization C.H.E.S.S. (Clean, Healthy, Educated, Safe & Sustainable Community, Inc.). Womack served as juror for Sites 1, 2, and 3.

Africatown, Alabama, was one of nine locations selected for The Architectural League’s 2021 initiative American Roundtable, a series of reports offering on-the-ground perspectives on the condition of small to mid-size American communities.


This program is supported, in part, by public funds from the New York City Department of Cultural Affairs in partnership with the City Council, and by the New York State Council on the Arts with the support of the Office of the Governor and the New York State Legislature.

The event is co-sponsored by Pratt Institute’s School of Architecture.