Lumpkin’s Slave Jail / Devil’s Half Acre

It is 1860, and a thug is meting out unimaginable cruelty on the enslaved people he is preparing to sell—or whom he is jailing for the slightest offenses. All this inhumanity is happening in plain view of the ministers, lawyers, doctors, plantation owners, and society ladies—the very elite of Richmond, Virginia.

It is 2008, and a team of archeologists removes 15 feet of fill to uncover the remains of the Lumpkin’s Slave Jail site. A cruel story, suppressed and buried for nearly 150 years, is revealed and an entire city is shaken. There is anger, distrust, grief, guilt, and fear. The project of creating an educational center to finally tell this nationally important story must be planned delicately.

SmithGroup is retained as the architect of note and calls Chora. The client required a complete suite of pre-design services before any architectural planning could proceed.

How to build trust, reach out, prepare a community to deal with a painful past, the legacy of slavery? Months of community engagement and 25 drafts later, Chora produces a Statement of Purpose that all stakeholders can support. The audience is posterity and the subject is how the abomination of human trade will be remembered. A troubled community is now ready to engage with the architects to give form to its story—and tell the truth at last.


Richmond, Virginia


Our best clients begin with a statement of purpose that guides the program design process. Chora's statements of purpose are a tried and true methodology to jump start the planning process.

– Hal Davis Senior Vice President, SmithGroup