A New Museum on the National Mall

General / People / Places / May 13, 2015

Highly anticipated, the Museum of African American History and Culture is topped out and scheduled to open on the Mall in Washington, D.C. about a year from now.

It’s been a long time coming. A collaborative team of Freelon Adjaye Bond /Smithgroup was awarded the commission by the Smithsonian in April 2009. Twenty-two teams had responded to an RFQ in summer 2008, with six firms selected to participate in a design competition in January 2009.

The foundation for the winning entry was laid by architect Max Bond, who died in February 2009.

“He structured it in a way to win the competition,” says Davis Brody Bond project architect Marc Massay. “It was on his radar for more than a decade.”

Bond would recruit Durham, N.C. architect Phil Freelon for the project, and then British architect David Adjaye. Freelon serves as architect of record, while Adjaye is lead design architect. “Working with Phil was a strategic move – and David also – to win the competition,” he says.

The building has now topped out, with five steel stories above grade, and four concrete stories below. Construction was slowed by water below site.

“Most of the land on the Mall is reclaimed from a swamp – down 12 feet you’re inside the water table,” says project architect Rob Anderson. “We dug down 90 feet for a full excavation and built a slurry wall.”

Its first bronze-tinted, aluminum corona panel was installed in April, with many more to come. They’re designed to lean in at a 12 and a half degree angle (a nod to the slope of the tip of the Washington Monument), and provide both shade and shimmer to the new building. At night, it will glow.

The architecture of the building, nestled as it is into the Mall, may be important – but the museum’s programming is especially significant.

“Our goal is to try and capture and present to the public some of the history of the African American story and its transition from the Middle Passage to slavery to civil rights,” ┬áMassay says. “We want tell the story in a way that may be difficult and powerful, but also important – about the transitions that the African American people have made in this country.”

It’s a museum whose time has surely come.


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Mike Welton

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