“The persecution of women perceived to be witches took place throughout Europe and America for several hundred years. Women who were classed as witches because of their non-Christian practices were tortured and killed from as early as the mid-1400s in Europe, and roughly 80,000 witches were put to death between 1500 and 1660.”
Buildner, which bill itself as the world’s largest organizer of architecture competitions and has awarded more than $1 million in prizes, has launched a new global ideas competition for a memorial to people unjustly persecuted as witches throughout history. Entrants are welcome to select any location and design any structure, with any material, but with sustainable practices in mind.
Entrants are also not limited to a particular event or injustice. Landscape architects and other designers can mine the past or examine the present. Concepts can educate about past persecution or provide a “method of whistle blowing and raising awareness of ongoing injustices.”
According to the organizers, witch trials have been staged for hundreds of years and in some communities continue to this day.
The most famous is perhaps the Salem Witch Trials, which took place in Salem, Massachusetts in 1692-93. More than 200 were accused of witchcraft and nineteen were executed, including fourteen women and five men. All were hanged except one who was pressed to death with heavy stones. Buildner notes that this is a “relatively small number compared to the Basque Witch Trials of the 17th century in Spain, in which around some 7,000 cases of witchcraft were heard.”
While the popular image is of witches burned at the stake, most in England and the American colonies were hanged. “30,000–60,000 women, men, and children” were executed this way during the height of witch mania in the western world.
The Memorial for Witches competition is the first in a series of competitions that seeks to “remind the public” of the ways in which society deals with “irrational fears.” They note that “those who were feared and misunderstood were suppressed and victimized, a trend of social injustice that still takes place to this day.”
Indeed, National Geographic states that 21 percent of Americans currently believe in witchcraft and attacks on socially marginalized groups have risen. And the United Nations and other human rights groups have found the number of witch trials and hunts around the world has increased, particularly in India and some Sub-Saharan African countries. In recent years, witch hunts in Sub-Saharan African countries, India, Indonesia, Brazil, and Saudi Arabia have resulted in many innocent women, men, and children kidnapped, imprisoned, tortured, or killed.
While the jury hasn’t been announced yet, past juries of Buildner competitions have included Carlo Ratti, director of the MIT Senseable City Lab, and leading landscape architects and architects from firms such as MVRDV, Zaha Hadid Architects, Snøhetta, and UN Studio.
First prize winners will receive €3,000 ($3,044); the second prize, €1,500 ($1,522); and third prize, €1,000 ($1,014); while one student winner will also receive €1,000.
Register by November 11 and submit your entries by December 15. Winners will be announced in February, 2023.