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Ark of Return—UN Memorial

Honouring a Vision

Ark of Return—United Nations Memorial

New York, NY

Architect: Rodney Leon Architects

Client: Precision Stone

Completion: 2015
Category: Cultural

Project Type: Stone Engineering; Special Project

Stone Types
+ Black Absolute Zimbabwe granite
+ Mountain White Danby marble
Olympia Danby marble


2015–Natural Stone Institute Pinnacle Awards

Award of Merit, Commercial Exterior


Jul 2016–Stone World Magazine


2015–Trinity figure delivered to UN Headquarters

2014–Rodney Leon visits Vermont Quarries


Sep 2020–Stone Cladding Technologies

The first permanent memorial erected at the United Nations in New York City, the Ark of Return is a touching tribute to the courage of enslaved people, abolitionists and unsung heroes who helped end the oppression of slavery. It’s a vessel shaped out of marble that symbolizes a slave ship that has “returned” and acting in a manner to undo the tragedy of slavery, heal and move forward in a positive manner. In essence, the Ark of Return represents a victory over slavery.

The monument contains three main elements:

Acknowledge the Tragedy—a three dimensional map inscribed on the interior of the memorial. This map highlights the African continent at the centre of the slave trade and illustrates the global scale, complexity and impact of the triangular slave trade.

Consider the Legacy—a full-scale human replica carved out of black Zimbabwean granite. This element illustrates the extreme conditions under which millions of African people were transported during the middle passage. The sculpture represents the spirit of the men, women and children who lost their lives in the transatlantic slave trade.

Lest We Forget—a triangular reflecting pool where visitors can honour the memory of the millions of souls that were lost.

PICCO Engineering was an integral member of the design team responsible for connection modelling and design; design and coordination of the steel framing; stone engineering and anchoring design; and coordinating the overall stone installation. The complex shape of the project required an innovative and non-traditional approach to stone engineering. To ensure the architect’s vision was realized, we utilized BIM software visualization tools and geometry analysis to to accurately integrate the structure with the natural stone panels. A particular sequencing pattern was created by PICCO so that the connection details could be accessed.

The project used 550 cubic feet of stone with panel sizes as large as 128 x 78 inches in various shapes, and thicknesses ranging from 2 to 9 inches that required special attention to lift the stones into position. Honed Olympic white Danby marble was chosen for the elevations and the robe of the Trinity Figure. Carving of the Trinity figure was performed by marble craftsman Leo Corsanini from Carrara, Italy. The full-scale hand-carved figure with outstretched hand, combined with its white handcarved marble “robe” is a touching reminder of the humanistic element. It is fitting, therefore, that master carvers spent hours carving this “Trinity Figure” that embodies the spirits of the men, women and children that have perished.


"The Ark of Return Permanent Memorial to the Victims of Slavery and The Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade has a complex geometry comprised of a triangulated stainless steel frame clad in triangular white marble panels. The level of precision and coordination required to fabricate and install the memorial by our entire design and construction team was extraordinary. PICCO Engineering’s design of the structural support details within a limited time frame was critical to the successful installation and public unveiling of the project by United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki Moon".

—Rodney Leon, Rodney Leon Architects

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