Harriet Tubman Underground Railroad Visitor Center

Church Creek, MD

Indoor and outdoor exhibits, orientation theater, library, multipurpose room, gift shop
Offices, break room, exhibit storage space
Memorial garden, walking paths, picnic pavilions
LEED Silver Certified
Maryland Department of Natural Resources
Site Analysis, Fundraising Materials, Community Involvement, Sustainable Design, Interior Design, Full Design Services, Construction Administration, Building Information Modeling

The design for the new Harriet Tubman Underground Railroad Visitor Center expresses the importance of traveling northward to escape the circumstances of slavery through an integrated site, building, and exhibit design.

Conceived as a series of abstracted forms that can be interpreted in many ways—from the farmstead vernacular of the region to stations along the Underground Railroad—the new complex immerses visitors in the story of Tubman’s life.

Joined by a shared entry plaza and terrace, the two structures of the complex, one exhibit and one administrative, frame a view north, expressing the importance of traveling northward to escape the circumstances of slavery. The space between the buildings grows wider as visitors venture north—a metaphor for freedom—and the view to the south is truncated by the splay of the buildings, suggesting a sense of oppression similar to that associated with the slaveholding states.


AIA Maryland Excellence in Design Public Building of the Year
AIA Maryland Excellence in Design Merit Award
AIA Chesapeake Bay Excellence in Design Merit Award
AIA Baltimore Design Award Honorable Mention
National Trust for Historic Preservation 40 Under 40 Places

Clad in zinc panels, the three exhibit volumes will develop a dull, self-healing patina—a similar outcome hoped for the nation’s attitude towards slavery—while the southern volume, finished in wood siding, will weather to gray overtime. Just as the journey north was not a linear one for those seeking freedom, the design of the interpretive spaces allows visitors to take detours away from the main route to discover and learn. Views out offer a constant connection to the Blackwater landscape, the memorial garden, and freedom, enhancing the overall interpretive experience. Upon exiting the center, visitors are directed to the memorial garden where they are offered a direct route north, that then weaves through the site via various loops and returns—a metaphor for Tubman’s willingness to return to the region. Views along the pathway change from wooded areas to fields and marshes, all of which were part of daily life at the time.

What the Jury Said

“There are so many aspects of this project that made it the winner of Building of the Year. In terms of design excellence, the forms and organization of the structure not only fit within the landscape but also help tell Harriet Tubman’s story. The choice of exterior materials and how they will weather over time worked not only as a beautiful pallet, but also as a strong metaphor.”

What Our Clients Say

"Our administration is proud to support this state-of-the-art educational facility and state park... This is a fitting tribute to an abolitionist, humanitarian, and a true Maryland hero who risked everything so that others could be free."

—Larry Hogan, Governor, State of Maryland