Diversity+Design competition pays tribute to victims of COVID-19

a display of tapestries in front of the washington monument and the national mall in washington dc, as an example of memorial installation.

AIDS Memorial Quilt   |   National Endowment for the Humanities 

by Liya Rachal Chandy

Published July 12, 2021

UB students participating in the annual Diversity + Design Competition have generated a series of thoughtful proposals for a memorial to victims of COVID-19.


Their design concepts are the result of an annual competition organized by UB associate professor of architecture Beth Tauke as part her course, “American Diversity & Design” (ARC 211). 

The general education course – open to undergraduates from all majors – introduces students to the everyday ways design can make visible and better accommodate the needs of an increasingly diverse population. Writings, films, products, graphics, electronic media, buildings and environments by and about diverse individuals and groups are examined, as are the histories of our diverse physical and media environments.

This year’s competition honors the more than 3.7 million lives taken by COVID-19, inviting students to focus their memorial concepts on victims from underrepresented groups, many of which have been disproportionately affected by the pandemic.  

Tauke, an internationally regarded scholar and educator in inclusive design, organized the competition to raise awareness of COVID-19’s impact on underserved communities in the U.S., while also advancing innovative, cross-disciplinary approaches to inclusive environments.  

Working in groups, students targeted their proposals on a single underrepresented group (e.g., incarcerated individuals), and a specific site of installation (e.g., the exercise yard of Attica State Penitentiary). With “memorial” broadly defined, students were invited to consider formats as diverse as landmark objects, works of art, physical and digital environments, communication design and urban design. 

Read on for more information on the winning proposals, which also can be viewed on the Diversity + Design Competition website. Students also exhibited their concepts virtually at the UB Inclusive Excellence Summit on April 8, 2021.

First-place winners

Earning a tie for first place are Jun Woo Park (BS Computer Science), Yosi Hoffman (BA Environmental Design) and Hanna Ruth (BS Architecture). Park curates a website for his proposal that shares stories of individuals who lived in poverty and lost their lives to the pandemic. Each story is poetically represented as a lantern – brightening the night sky and never forgotten. Hoffman depicts the narrative as an installation at Buffalo’s historic Gates Circle, with a water feature in the shape of tears and names of victims submerged to convey the distance felt by victims during the pandemic. Ruth’s proposal, aptly titled ‘Behind the mask,’ renders the inequitable and unrecognized experiences of those with physical disabilities through a design intervention along boardwalk. 

Second-place winners

Tying for second place are ‘A memorial for African Americans lost to COVID-19’ by Rachel Ragonese, ‘Special Trees’ by Adam Dageshtani and ‘Attica Correctional Facility COVID-19 Memorial Basketball Court’ by Brandon Rau. 

Third-place winner

Hao Li, Mark Chen and Julia Ferone placed third with their propositions namely ‘Memoirs of voice’, ‘Trumpville’ and ‘One piece of a whole puzzle.’ 

A special thank you to the team of teaching assistants working with Beth Tauke: Ionna Dinoulis, Jennifer Persico, Aleiya Als, Joshua Diamond, Jamie Jones, Bethany Greenway, Courtney Vona, Lydia Ho, Jake Barkan, Bhalendu Guatam, and Kwabena Adonu.