Adjaye's National Museum of African American History and Culture named design of the year

Not only is this a striking and already iconic structure at the heart of America's capital, but it's the realisation of an entire century of planning, rejection, political opposition and finally collaborative execution
– David Rowan, Beazley Design of the Year jury chair

The National Museum of African American History and Culture has been named the design of 2017 by London’s Design Museum, making it only the second building to receive the accolade.

The project, shortlisted after winning the architecture of the year category, was chosen ahead of a stair-climbing wheelchair, an ink manufactured from air pollution and a high-performance hijab by Nike.

Designed by Adjaye Associates, The Freelon Group, Davis Brody Bond and SmithGroupJJR, the 313,000sq ft (29,000sq m) museum is located on a five-acre site on Constitution Avenue, next to the Washington Monument in Washington DC.

The museum is a symbol for the African American contribution to the nation's history and identity, and features galleries, areas for public contemplation and theatre space.

The design concept was created by Sir David Adjaye, including the building’s striking three-tiered structure, which is covered in bronze plates to shade the glazed facades behind and patterned to reference the history of African American craftsmanship.

The Beazley Design of the Year jury praised the meaningful relationship struck between the building and its unique site, and its conceptual resonance with America's longstanding African heritage.

Jury chair David Rowan said: “The judges had the tough challenge of selecting a project that both epitomised exciting and impactful design, and also capturing the spirit of the year.

"This project did that beautifully: not only is this a striking and already iconic structure at the heart of America's capital, but it's the realisation of an entire century of planning, rejection, political opposition and finally collaborative execution.

“But the building, opened by Barack Obama in September 2016, is also a powerful reminder that design enables a diverse conversation and can challenge the dominant political discourse.

"We felt that, in the context of today's strident American debate on race and identity, David Adjaye's achievement represented optimism.”

Fashion designer Ozwald Boateng, a fellow juror, added: “It’s a project of beautiful design, massive cultural impact, and it delivers an emotional experience and has a scale deserving of this major award.

"You enter the building clouded in darkness and work your way through the displays and end bathed in light. This is a project that feels like a major turning point.”

Speaking to CLAD just prior to the museum’s opening, Adjaye described the project as “one of the defining projects” of his career to date.

“It is a specific story with a universal application,” he said. “It’s about African American history within the context of the American and global narrative. It’s an important story for everyone – and this has always been central to the design concept for the building.

“I could never remake this museum, or repeat it, because it’s so bound up in the particulars of its location, of its goals and of its place in history.”

The National Museum of African American History and Culture
Sir David Adjaye tells CLAD about the design concept

“It’s a building with many narratives – relating to the context, the history and the programme. It’s certainly a marriage of form with content. This narrative is articulated immediately by the silhouette – borrowing from the form of a Yoruba sculpture – while also resonating with the angle of the Washington Monument.

"Several other things absolutely came to mind in thinking through what this building should be and how it should work with the programme that we were given. How do you add to such a fantastic masterplan, one of the most significant masterplans in the world – this incredible monumental core to the capital city of the most powerful country in the world? How do you understand its intrinsic nature, which is the idea of the pastoral and the ordered landscape? How do you make an end to the ordered landscape and begin the pastoral, which is the National Mall proper, and then open onto the Washington Monument grounds?

“In a way, I always conceived of this building as a kind of turning point – a knuckle, a joint – which articulates the two things, neither one nor the other, but bridging between the two. This can be understood as a metaphor for the less tangible bridge between cultures – ensuring that the African American story becomes a universal story. So from the sensitivity of the masterplan to the cultural discourse, I wanted to ensure that the building ends the mall properly and begins the monument.

“Architecturally, this project continues the modernist discourse of Gordon Bunshaft’s Hirshhorn Museum and I. M. Pei’s East Building but, in its superstructure, the National Museum of African American History and Culture refers to a sculpture by the 20th century Yoruba sculptor Olowe of Ise.

“The crown-like form of the corona ascends in three stages, consisting of three inverted pyramids, giving a sense of uplift. It is a column capitol, it has a pyramid reference, and despite the passage of time, it represents the aesthetic world of the Africans brought to America as slaves.”

Previous winning designs of the year include the London 2012 Olympic Torch and the Barack Obama Hope poster. Zaha Hadid’s Heydar Aliev centre in Azerbaijan, honoured in 2014, is the only other building to receive the award since it launched a decade ago.

Adjaye is enjoying a period of success that has seen him knighted by the Queen, named one of the 100 most influential people of the year by TIME magazine and win a host of high-profile commissions.

His forthcoming projects include a Holocaust Memorial and Learning Centre by the Houses of Parliament in London, a spy museum in New York, a contemporary art museum in San Antonio, a library in Florida, a cultural complex in Latvia and Harlem's Studio Museum.

David Adjaye  National Museum of African American History and Culture  Washington DC  Beazley Design of the Year  Design Museum 
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The National Museum of African American History and Culture has been named the design of 2017 by London’s Design Museum, making it only the second building to receive the accolade. The project, shortlisted after winning the architecture of the year category, was chosen ahead of a stair-climbing wheelchair, an ink manufactured from air pollution and a high-performance hijab by Nike. Designed by Adjaye Associates, The Freelon Group, Davis Brody Bond
CLD,VAT,HAM,ARC,DES,PHR
The National Museum of African American History and Culture in Washington DC has been announced as the design of the year 2017 by London’s Design Museum / Alan Karchmer/NMAAHC
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