Oct
21

A People’s Journey, A Nation’s Story: The Architecture

The long-awaited opening of the Smithsonian’s National Museum of African American History and Culture generated worldwide attention. We’ve gathered some of the most interesting, compelling and thought-provoking coverage to tell the story behind the museum’s stunning architectural design.

 

Design and Construction

Drawing of museum's exterior

A 2009 exterior architectural rendering of the Smithsonian’s National Museum of African American History and Culture. (Image courtesy Freelon Adjaye Bond / Smith Group)

The building design is the product of a collaboration of four design firms that formed Freelon Adjaye Bond/SmithGroupJJR: The Freelon Group, Adjaye Associates, Davis Brody Bond and the SmithGroupJJR. The design of the building features two distinct design elements—the “Corona,” the signature exterior feature that consists of 3,600 bronze-colored cast-aluminum panels weighing a total of 230 tons, and the “Porch,” which serves as the location for the main museum entrance on Madison Drive. Read more about the building’s design from the Smithsonian’s press kit.


Smithsonian Architect Talks National Museum of African American history and Culture

WJLA Good Morning Washington, Sept. 9, 2015

Screenshot of interview with museum in background

Architect Phil Frelon on Good Morning Washington , ABC 7.

Architect Phil Freelon on the highly anticipated African American History Museum opening. Watch the video from ABC7


D.C.’s new African American museum is a bold challenge to traditional Washington architecture

Los Angeles Times, Sept. 13, 2016

Museum exterior as seen through trees

The panels wrapping the exterior of the The panels wrapping the exterior of the museum are inspired by ironwork created by American slaves. (Photo by Alan Karchmer)

In full shadow it’s a workmanlike brown, the color of shoe leather. In direct sunlight the shade is closer to bronze. Late in the day its western edge, turned toward the Washington Monument and the Lincoln Memorial, begins to reflect the setting sun and turns a surprisingly bright gold. Read more from Christopher Hawthorne for the Los Angeles Times.


Take a Look Inside the National Museum of African American history and Culture

Architect, Sept. 14, 2016

Dramatic view of metal panels from interior of museum

Photo by Alex Fradkin

The architectural press descended on Washington, D.C., this morning to preview the National Museum of African American History and Culture, which opens on Sept. 24. Read more from Sara Johnson for Architect.


National Museum of African American History and Culture Review: Power With a Light Architectural Touch

The Wall Street Journal, Sept. 14, 2016

Museum exterior with Washington Monument in background

The building was designed by Phil Freelon, David Adjaye, the late J. Max Bond Jr. plus SmithGroup. (Photo by Alan Karchmer for the Smithsonian’s National Museum of African American History and Culture)

Dark and blocky from a distance but dissolving into filigree screens of gleaming bronze poised upon a base of transparent glass, the new National Museum of African American History and Culture bears the immense weight of its historic genesis-over a century in the making- as lightly as the shimmer on its triple-stacked crown shape. Read more from Julie V. Iovine for The Wall Street Journal (pdf)


The Descendant of a Slave Got the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture Built

Washingtonian, Sept. 15, 2016

Portrait of McKissack in orange jacket

Deryl McKissack, courtesy of McKissack & McKissack.

There’s a Maya Angelou quote on one of the walls of the new Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture. It reads, in part: “I am the dream and the hope of the slave.” When you talk to Deryl McKissack, its meaning becomes much clearer.

Her great, great grandfather came to this country in 1790 as a slave. He was owned by a prominent contractor who used him as a builder. He passed the trade down through the generations, with McKissack’s grandfather and great uncle becoming the first licensed black architects in the Southeastern United States. Today, McKissack runs her own architecture and construction services firm, McKissack & McKissack, in Washington. Read more from Marisa M. Kashino for the Washingtonian.


Mission Of African-American Museum Writ Large In Its Very Design

National Public Radio, Sept. 15, 2016

Adjay stands in shirtsleeves silhouetted against the museum

Architect David Adjaye is the lead designer of the project. The Freelon Adjaye Bond/SmithGroup won the competition to design the museum in 2003. (Photo by Lara Hartzenbusch / NPR)

The building rises — bronze and “brooding,” in the words of architect David Adjaye — floating in a sea of white marble and limestone on the sprawling National Mall in Washington, D.C. More from Ari Shapiro for National Public Radio.


Stories Hide in the Design of DC’s Newest Museum

Wired, Sept. 16, 2016

NMAAHC exterior at dusk

The building glows from within in the evening. (Phot by Alan Karchmer)

…The African American experience is integral to the museum’s architecture. “You’re using construction as a vehicle to carry ideas” says lead designer David Adjaye, part of the mega-team of architects and designers—including Davis Brody Bond, Freelon Group, SmithGroup JJR, and Gustafson Guthrie Nichol—that worked on the museum. Read more from Sam Lubell for Wired.


How a Museum Captures African American History

The Atlantic, Sept. 17, 2016

The Wahsington Monument seen from inside the Museum

Photo by Alan Karchmer

One of the most difficult lessons to learn about racism today is one of the first to be gleaned at the Smithsonian Institution’s new National Museum of African American History and Culture, which opens to the world on September 24. On the lowest concourse, deep in the museum’s basement levels, exhibits about slavery explain that the trans-Atlantic slave trade wasn’t motivated by racism. Read more from Kriston Capps for the Atlantic.


Washington DC’s monument to black history

The Guardian, Sept. 18, 2016

Museum exterior

The National Museum of African American History and Culture in Washington, DC. Photograph: Jim Lo Scalzo/EPA

Decades after it was first dreamed of, the Smithsonian’s National Museum of African American History and Culture, completed by British architect David Adjaye, opens this week. While the building is striking, its collection is more remarkable. Read more from Rowan Moore for the Guardian.


Official National Museum of African American History & Culture Construction Time-Lapse (Video)

EarthCam, Sept. 22, 2016

The construction of the 19th museum of the Smithsonian Institution, The National Museum of African American History & Culture, was documented by EarthCam’s Gigapixel construction camera. The work of lead designer David Adjaye, lead architect Philip Freelon, and their architectural team Freelon Adjaye Bond/SmithGroup can be enjoyed in this 106 second video showing 52 months of construction.


Posted: 21 October 2016
About the Author:

Alex di Giovanni has been editing The Torch since August 2006. Prior to joining the Smithsonian, she worked as a writer and editor for the National Geographic Society, Plexus Scientific, The Nature Conservancy, The National Foreign Language Center and St. Martin’s Press, among others. She has the best job in the world.