The architects from Freelon Adjaye Bond/SmithGroup had just 55 days from the notification that they were invited to the juried second phase of the competition for the Smithsonian’s National Museum of African American History and Culture until the submission deadline. That’s not a lot of time for four firms to come together, gel as a team, and create a winning conceptual design for a new museum on the National Mall. “It was all hands on deck, with strong design leadership in David Adjaye,” says Philip Freelon, president of The Freelon Group.

What made that deadline feasible was a series of strong central ideas that served as a rallying point for the design. “A classical tripartite column with a base, a shaft, and a capital was a beginning,” Freelon says. “There are parallels in Yoruban art and architecture where the column are posts, and also in a human figure with a crown on its head. Our design is an abstraction of those ideas.” It was important to the team, says Davis Brody Bond Aedas principal Peter Cook, to represent both African and African-American influences. “We also looked at the notion of the front porch, which can be a place of welcome, togetherness, and family,” he says.

Now that the competition has been won, the team must turn from concept to reality. “The design idea took form very quickly,” says Freelon. The architects will revisit and reform their central concepts in a final design that will develop over several years. With a scheduled completion date of 2015 for the museum, there is less of a rush. For now, the team is taking a deep breath and enjoying their moment of victory.