- Project Name
- National Museum of African American History and Culture
DC ,United States
- Smithsonian Institution
- Project Types
- Year Completed
- Shared by
Structural Engineer: Guy Nordenson and Associates,Structural Engineer: Robert Silman Associates,null: WSP Flack + Kurtz
- Project Status
From the May 2019 Issue of ARCHITECT:
Text by Ian Volner
A new museum brings complex cultural and historic references to the National Mall.
Walking at dusk down the National Mall in Washington, D.C., in winter especially, one can encounter a startling architectural mirage, appearing for the all the world like a grid of flame. But there’s nothing to fear: It’s only the sun striking the façade of the National Museum of African American History and Culture (NMAAHC)—the long-awaited Smithsonian Institution affiliate showcasing art, artifacts, and more dating back four centuries, from the arrival of the first slaves, to the Civil War, to the Black Lives Matter movement. As befits an institution dedicated to collective culture and remembrance, the building that houses these gems was created through a unique collaborative endeavor, comprising London-based Adjaye Associates; Research Triangle Park, N.C.–based Freelon Group (now part of Perkins+Will); New York–based Davis Brody Bond; and Detroit-based SmithGroup. Having so many hands at work could have led to a diluted, impersonal design solution, yet the final result here boasts an expressiveness that is rare in a government-funded project.
This is due in large measure to the scrim that gives the building its magic-hour effulgence: Made of aluminum coated in a reflective polymer, the disengaged screen is based on the decorative grilles that adorn the houses of some African American families in the south, and its external effect is no less striking than the lacework shadows it casts in the interior throughout the day. The screens rise in a triad of raked tiers to form a crown-like form—inspired by, according to David Adjaye, Hon. FAIA, a piece of traditional African sculpture—while inside a highly theatrical circulation system (characterized by a sequence of escalators to the upper galleries and concrete ramps descending to the lower ones) and subdued finishes (especially in the downstairs Contemplative Court) give the museum spaces a decidedly contemporary feel. Mixing eras and cultures, the building is more than the sum of its parts, and it is a bold new addition to the capital’s monumental core.
Project: Smithsonian Institution, National Museum of African American History and Culture, Washington, D.C.
Client: Smithsonian Institution
Architecture and Interior Design: Freelon Adjaye Bond/SmithGroup, Durham, N.C., London, Washington, D.C., and Washington, D.C. . Philip Freelon, FAIA (The Freelon Group, now part of Perkins+Will, lead architect) Zena Howard, FAIA (The Freelon Group, now part of Perkins+Will, senior project manager); David Adjaye, Hon. FAIA (Adjaye Associates, lead designer); Rob Anderson (Davis Brody Bond, architecture); Hal Davis, FAIA (SmithGroup, architecture) (project leads)
Architect of Record: The Freelon Group (now part of Perkins+Will)
Contractor: Clark/Smoot/Russell, a Joint Venture
Exhibit Design: Ralph Appelbaum Associates
Exhibit Fabrication: Design and Production
Lighting: Fisher Marantz Stone
Food Service: Hopkins Foodservice Specialists
Landscape: Gustafson Guthrie Nichol
Acoustician: Shen Milsom & Wilke
Sustainability Consultant: Rocky Mountain Institute
M/E/P/FP Engineer: WSP Flack + Kurtz
Structural Engineer: Robert Silman Associates; Guy Nordenson and Associates
Geotechnical and Environmental Engineer: Froehling & Robertson
Civil Engineer: Rummel Klepper & Kahl
Traffic Studies: Gorove-Slade Associates
Surveying/Subsurface Utility Investigation: A. Morton Thomas & Associates
Tier II: AECOM
Security: Arup Specifications: Construction Specifications
Retail Design: Doyle & Associates
Hardware: Erbschloe Consulting Services
Cost Estimating: Faithful+Gould
Theaters/Multimedia Performance Space Design: Fisher Dachs Associates
Vertical Transportation: Lerch Bates
Historic Resource Protection: Robinson & Associates
Life Safety Code Consultant: Rolf Jensen & Associates (now Jensen Hughes)
Façade Consultant: Heintges Consulting Architects & Engineers
Threat Protection/Blast: Weidlinger Associates (now Thornton Tomasetti)
Size: 397,000 square feet (total floor area)
Cost: $397 million
Materials and Sources
Laminate: Nevamar (Owned by Panolam) Walls
Walls: National Gypsum (drywall); EMCO (masonry wall); Modernfold (movable wall); Pyrock Flooring (acoustic wall)
Floors: Wausau (terrazzo, installed by Boatman & Magnani); Forbo (resilient); Shaw, Mannington (carpet); Granites of America (stone in contemplative court)
Ceilings: Armstrong (ACT); Accent Ceilings and Walls (metal)
Lighting: Forum (recessed); Forum (track); OptoLum (task); Forum (exterior)
Doors: Assa Abloy (hardware); Ambico/Eggers (door); Dawson, C.R. Laurence Co. (exterior)
Glass: Interpane (architectural glass/glazing); Bendheim, Dlubak (Decorative glass panels/partitions); MechoShade (window treatments)
Furniture: Series Seating (auditorium seating); Jefferson (reception desk, terrazzo cladding by David Allen); Penco (lockers/cubbies); Jefferson (closet systems)
Architectural/Custom Woodworking: Jefferson (in-house)
Exterior Cladding: Morel Foundry (bronze exterior panels); Dura Industries (panel coating); SunPower Corp. (solar panels); Henry (green roof waterproofing system); Moerings USA (soils and plants)
Site Furniture: Xero Flor America (stone bench in Coldspring Granite, install by Rugo Stone); CMS (water feature consultant); Wesco Fountains (water feature install); Landscape Forms (metal benches)
Signage: Gelberg (interior); Bunting (exterior)
Plumbing Fixtures/Fittings: Ferguson; American Standard; Bemis Commercial; Toto; Kohler; Chicago Faucets; Elkay; Florestone
Text by Katie Gerfen
This article first appeared in July 2009.
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.
This project won a 2019 AIA Institute Honor Award for Architecture.
FROM THE AIA:
The culmination of a decades-long journey toward commemorating black history and culture, the new museum establishes strong connections to its site on the National Mall in Washington, D.C., and the nation’s long-overlooked African American heritage. Occupying the Mall’s last buildable parcel, the museum is a compelling home for the important and emotional journey that awaits visitors.
The team sought inspiration from the Yoruban Caryatid, a traditional post or column topped with a corona, for the museum’s three-tiered exterior form. With angled walls that reach upward and match the angle of the Washington Monument’s capstone, the museum cuts an iconic profile that both complements the surrounding structures and sets it apart from them. The patterns cast by the 3,600 bronze-colored panels wrapping the museum allude to the ornate ironwork found in cities such as New Orleans and Charleston, S.C., where such work is typically designed and fabricated by Americans of African descent.
A sweeping porch with a reflecting pool welcomes all visitors approaching the main entrance from the National Mall. Engaging the idea of a front porch as a meeting and gathering space, the entry is an outdoor room that eases the transition between building and landscape.
Inside, an open and unrestricted central hall reveals the 400,000-square-foot museum’s internal arrangement with 130-foot views to the upper levels and down to the underground concourse. Escalators aid in circulation and provide a visual expression of vertical movement throughout the museum. Below ground, the location of 60 percent of the museum, the ambiance is both monumental and meditative in a triple-height gallery and the museum’s Contemplative Court. An oculus above the court draws natural light into the space, where it is filtered through a cascade of water.
Realization of the project involved engaging a number of critical stakeholders, including the Smithsonian and interested parties in the community and at the state level. In response to the criteria established by the Smithsonian, the design was driven by themes of resilience, memory, and movement. Careful consideration resulted in a building that speaks about the identity of a marginalized group of people who have played—and will continue to play—an important role in the United States.