Hazelwood Memorial.

"I Lived, We Live: What Did We Miss?" – Designing a Voice for Loss.

About Project.

This project was born out of a collaboration between the Pittsburgh community of Hazelwood and Carnegie Mellon designers' Senior Capstone Project. Being a class of 30+ designers, a clear organizational framework had to be built to execute an appropriate and sensitive exhibit. This exhibit was broken into 5 themes and spaces in the exhibit, all working together to produce a larger narrative: Spaces We Shared, Systems We See, Aspirations We Hold, Together We Remember, and United We Will.

Client: Center of Life
Role: Exhibit Design – Team Lead
Category:  Exhibit Design, Research, Storytelling
Date: Jan-May 2017

Brief & Problem.

Urban Violence has affected the identity and memories of Pittsburgh's Hazelwood community.

As a society, we often avoid honest and open conversations about difficult subject matter like race, privilege, social exclusion and violence. We must all work together to understand how these types of inequalities result in misunderstanding, racism and loss of social capital. Rev. Smith of Center of Life brings a personal perspective, having witnessed the impact that loss and injustice can have on a community.

The objective of this collaboration with the community, Center of Life, and Carnegie Mellon School of Design, is to create a space that will commemorate and shed light on the issues within Hazelwood–just one of many in America plagued with systemic problems. Through active listening, hands-on activities and designing alongside community members who have experienced loss firsthand, this exhibit will strive to leave an impression on future generations and cities across America.

"There is no good reason to bury a child. There is no justification for why this unnatural act has become normal in Hazelwood."
"When a community loses young people too early, it takes something out of it. It changes what the present is, but, more importantly, it directly impacts what the future could be," Smith said. "This exhibit will speak to the fact that it's not normal for young people to die before their parents. It is not normal for people to die in this volume. This project might reach people who are thinking about living that life."


As young, optimistic young-adults from completely different socio-economic, racial, and cultural backgrounds, how do we begin designing for people that have lost and grieved so much? Sensitivity, compassion, and having an open mind were integral to entering sensitive conversation space. We started by gaining context in the community of Hazelwood by opening up, sharing stories between each other and creating rapport. Getting on a common basis allows for more organic empathy towards understanding what other's have gone through and are currently facing.

Given the nature of this project, benefits are likely to emerge over time and may not be fully realized during the period of one semester. We recognize that projects of this nature involve risk—we anticipate successes and failures.

Solution & Approach.

A place to remember and share hopes for the future.

This exhibit describes the journey of Hazelwood and asks us how we have arrived to a world with such systemic loss. We question the larger forces in our society, as we strive to find peace in our personal histories. We look for opportunities for positive change, and recognize the power of this community many people call home: Hazelwood.

Here, we recognize the countless individuals who have left the pain of saying goodbye to loved ones whose lives were cut short by street violence. Their stories of loss encourage us to share our own, and through this exchange, we take part in something bigger than ourselves. We become a community empowered by our vulnerability, strengthened from our compassion, and engaged with the issues that matter to us.

Spaces We Shared

A community cannot grow without spaces to call its own. Although Hazelwood used to be a thriving neighborhood, it lost countless resources like schools, grocery stores, and jobs when the steel mills closed. Neighborhood treasures like ice cream shops and community swimming pools are now fading memories. By looking at artifacts from Hazelwood’s past, we reflect on what this neighborhood used to be.

This area remembers the cultural elements, loss and historic changes that have shaped Hazelwood into what it has been and what it is today. This historical context, gives insight to why problems arose in Hazelwood.

Systems We See

As Americans, we are promised the rights of freedom, justice, and equality. But how are these rights fulfilled if communities struggle to put food on the table and keep their children safe? Battling systemic issues like poverty, racial inequality, and urban violence starts with open eyes and honest conversations.

This area asks the audience to read news stories and community quotes about Hazelwood’s challenges alongside the promises from our Founding Fathers. The large table facilitates a discourse about where these promises fall short. Individuals are asked to join the conversation by writing thoughts on the cards provided or engage with conversation on social media.

Aspirations We Hold

The people of Hazelwood are living and breathing stories of inspiration and resilience. From Olympic medalists to entrepreneurs, the community is filled with champions of hard work and talent. However, amongst these bright stars are also quieter voices whose stories of compassion and determination remain untold.

Through all of the hardship of Hazelwood, and the portrayal of Hazelwood in media as a lost cause, there are individual strengths that live within Hazelwood. The audience is asked to read the inspiring stories of individuals’ success, while considering their own future ambitions on “What is your future self” cards provided.

Together We Remember

There are times when it is difficult to remember the loss of our loved ones because the pain is too great. However, when we can voice our grief to others, suddenly we are no longer alone. The countless individual stories of young lives cut short in Hazelwood build a larger narrative of urban street violence. Coming together over this shared experience creates a system for support and healing.

This space serves as a memorial to victims lost to gun violence, who's lives were cut short. This recognizes that they will not be forgotten, but serve a larger purpose. They are encouraged to reflect on their own losses and consider leaving keepsakes or share a memory of a lost loved one in our community display. Over time, the space becomes a system to preserve the memory of victims.

United We Will

Hazelwood is a beautiful mosaic made up of unique individuals who each play a role in the community. Whether they are artists, activists, leaders, role models, or supporters, these people all share the desire to contribute to something bigger than themselves. Through the years, Hazelwood’s strength has rested on its ability to come together in difficult times.

In this area, people reflect on their own personal identity and connection to Hazelwood, empowering them to reflect on their role in the community and how they can make a difference as an individual, being just a part of the whole picture.

We Will.

Parts in a Whole

With the attempt to capture the voices and individual perspectives of the community members, we aimed to create an interaction that involves a more individualized experience, reflective of the collective objective. Each block has a place for an individual response of a given category/identity. Through the individualized activity, people can add to collective effort towards the visual reveal, while reflecting upon their own contribution and identity in the community. The blocks as a collective eventually reveal a phrase representative of the Hazelwood’s community spirit. We chose direct quotes from interviews of the Hazelwood community as Hazelwood had a very strong identity, which the members repeatedly emphasized throughout the meetings in the past. As people visit this part of the exhibit, they are able to have two experiences: afar and up close.

The exhibit is aspirational and metaphorical. For a community to be strong and make change, individuals are needed collectively. This part of the exhibit visually shows how many people love, care, and identify with the community – visually showing how diverse and how many resources and talents are available–a snapshot acknowledging the potential, love, and beauty of the existing community.

Individuals create a whole

We wanted to keep the idea of creating a collection of individual voices. We developed a concept towards a reflective experience through self-identification in the community. The question the exhibit activity asks is, “What can you do for Hazelwood?” Since our section of the exhibit was near the exit and at the end of the natural flow of the space, the audience will be able to reflect upon the information they've received in the other areas of the exhibit and self-identify as an unique community member or a supporter of Hazelwood in their own ways.

Combining the idea of empowerment through self identification, we came up with an idea of revealing two levels of visual interaction by using quotes. The audience will leave a handwritten message on a colored card. The colored card will be the key to reveal a hidden message or quote. Through this design we aim to visualize the collective support and care for Hazelwood.

Let's Chat.

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