Long-awaited National Museum of African American History and Culture opens in Washington

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
– David Adjaye

The long-awaited opening of the National Museum of African American History and Culture in Washington D.C. will take place this Saturday (24 September), with US president Barack Obama in attendance.

A three-day festival of music, literature, dance and film will accompany the opening of the museum, which is dedicated to exploring the story of America through the lens of the African American experience.

Obama will lead the museum’s dedication ceremony and mark the opening by ringing a specially restored and shipped bell from the First Baptist Church in Williamsburg, which was founded by slaves and free blacks in 1776.

Thousands of free tickets are being released for the museum’s opening day as part of the Smithsonian’s annual Museum Day Live! event.

The 400,000sq ft (37,000sq m) museum, which focuses on themes of African American history, culture and community, is located on a five-acre site on Constitution Avenue next to the Washington Monument.

The nine-story building features exhibition galleries, an education centre, a 350-seat theatre and a café. Signature spaces are the Contemplative Court, a memorial area for reflection; the Central Hall, the primary public space in the museum; and a reflecting pool at the south entrance.

The most significant component of the design is the bronze crown-like Corona, which forms the visible exterior of the building. Three inverted pyramids, inspired by the form of a Yoruba sculpture and echoing the angle of the Washington Monument, sit on top of each other to give a sense of uplift. Meanwhile, the patterned façade evokes the architectural ironwork made by African American artisans in southern US cities before and after the Civil War.

The building was designed by the Freelon Adjaye Bond/SmithGroup collective, with Tanzanian-born British architect David Adjaye leading the overall vision.

“Several 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,” Adjaye told CLAD.

“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.

“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 inaugural exhibitions will include A Changing America: 1968 and Beyond; Defending Freedom, Defining Freedom: Era of Segregation 1876-1968; and Double Victory: The African American Military Experience.

“A project isn’t finished and nothing is achieved until it’s used,” said Adjaye. “I can’t wait to see the museum once it has opened, to see how people respond to the space and use it in ways I hadn’t anticipated.

“That’s when the project is finished for me; only then can I begin to comment on whether any of my goals have been realised.”

The full interview with David Adjaye can be read in the current issue of CLADmag, available to read as a PDF or on digital turning pages.

In his own words
David Adjaye on the National Museum of African American History and Culture and his design philosophy

Do you have a personal favourite part of the museum?

Inside, there are ‘lens moments’, where visitors enjoy clear, unobstructed windows onto specific views of the city and the Washington Memorial grounds. The internal glazed skin is mostly fritted with a 20 per cent density for the purpose of night-time luminosity, yet at these moments where one encounters the façade, the frit is removed completely to provide an immediate, powerful and tactile experience of the corona skin. For example, as one rises up the building via the escalators to the west, the fritting disappears to reveal the corona. This effect is repeated on the east in the education spaces and the café on the south-west corner.

You’ve said that you believe in architecture as a force for good. How important is that when considering what projects to take on?

My ideal is to be able to explore new typologies, experiment with different materials and establish a meaningful connection to contemporary culture while exploring a social discourse. The simple act of building forces engagement – you can’t ignore it. Things always happen from that and the question is how we celebrate it or deny it. It is important not to be hampered or intimidated by the idea of difference – but rather to seek to be open and even speculative about the possibilities it offers.

Why do you think it’s important that our cultural and leisure spaces are well designed?

As civic buildings, the role of cultural and leisure spaces is to provide access to a collective consciousness while offering the chance for dialogue between different generations and social groupings. These kinds of buildings offer an opportunity for re-invention.

Thinking about what an institution should look like, and how, for example, a museum should work with its audience, is something that’s still playing out. Good design has a critical role to play in this challenge.

National Museum of African American History and Culture  David Adjaye  Washington DC 
Related stories

Exclusive: David Adjaye tells CLAD about his design for the 'monumental' National Museum of African American History and Culture

Video shows interiors of David Adjaye's National Museum of African American History and Culture in Washington D.C.

The long-awaited opening of the National Museum of African American History and Culture in Washington D.C. will take place this Saturday (24 September), with US president Barack Obama in attendance. A three-day festival of music, literature, dance and film will accompany the opening of the museum, which is dedicated to exploring the story of America through the lens of the African American experience. Obama will lead the museum’s dedication ceremony
VAT,HAM,AAC,ARC,DES,DEV,PHR,CLD
The 400,000sq ft (37,000sq m) museum is located on a five-acre site on Constitution Avenue next to the Washington Monument / Alan Karchmer/NMAAHC
More news
News stories: 1 - 30 of 7019     
 
 
 
News stories: 1 - 30 of 7019     
 
 
 
company profile
Company profile: Dornbracht GmbH
Dornbracht is turning the bathroom into a LifeSpa: Dornbracht’s LifeSpa vision has taken the idea of health-oriented bathroom design to a new level.
Try cladmag for free!
Sign up with CLAD to receive our regular ezine, instant news alerts, free digital subscriptions to CLADweek, CLADmag and CLADbook and to request a free sample of the next issue of CLADmag.
sign up
features
The steel ‘veil’ of the stadium’s facade is lifted to reveal the various entrances
Populous’ Christopher Lee has designed more than 30 stadia across five continents
"Our new stadium and wider scheme has been developed to deliver an unrivalled fan experience and significant benefits to our local community. We want to make this venue a world class sports and entertainment destination for everyone, in our birthplace of Tottenham - Daniel Levy, Tottenham Hotspur FC chair "

Tom Walker exploresthe storybehind TottenhamHotspur’sgroundbreakingnew footballstadium

A large sheltered, open air canopy is key to the design. It will host a variety of activities
"Like other cultural institutions, libraries provide something that the internet cannot: genuine human interaction"

How excitingnewprojects arechanging theface oflibrarydesign

features
Mikyoung Kim created a sculptural fog fountain for Chapel Hill
Mikyoung Kim
"Nature isn’t rigid. It’s open-ended; that’s its beauty"

The Boston-based landscape architect on blending art and science to design creative spaces that bring communities closer

CLAD people: Jean Nouvel
Jean Nouvel Architect
"It has spaces inside that exist nowhere else"

On the National Museum of Qatar

The spa and treatment rooms were designed around a natural cenote
"True luxury is about preserving the soul of an incredible destination"

KimMegsonvisitstheaward-winning ChabléYucatánResort&Spa

The Cucinelli Theatre is at the centre of the newly built Forum of the Arts.
"It would be great if today’s men left as a legacy for the future some architectural and humanistic monuments for the next hundred, three hundred, one thousand years"

BrunelloCucinelli has madehisfortune from cashmere and has used hiswealthto restoreandrevive theItalian hamlet he callshome. Wefindout more

cladkit product news
BD Barcelona Design reveals Cristallo by the late Alessandro Mendini
Cristallo was the last design from acclaimed designer and architect Alessandro Mendini
Lauren Heath-Jones
Design Studio BD Barcelona Design has released Cristallo, a limited-edition cabinet designed by the late architect and designer Alessandro Mendini, ...
Tom Dixon Studio to relaunch iconic Pylon chair
Pylon was first designed more than 20 years ago
Lauren Heath-Jones
Originally conceived in his metal workshop in the early 90's, the Pylon chair was Dixon's attempt to create the world's ...
Alusid's Sequel collection combines craftsmanship and sustainability says founder
The Sequel collection is billed as the 'most waste-efficient and sustainable' on the market
Lauren Heath-Jones
Alusid, a creator of eco-friendly surfaces, has partnered with Parkside to launch the Sequel range, the brand's first collection of ...
cladkit product news
ZHD'S MEW Coffee Table explores relationship between surface and structure
The MEW Coffee Table is described as an investigation into the relationship between surface and structure
Lauren Heath-Jones
Zaha Hadid Design has partnered with Italian furniture design firm Sawaya & Moroni to create the Mew Coffee Table. The ...
Duravit launches Tempano shower trays
The Tempano trays feature a state-of-the-art design that combines a linear slope with a high drainage rate
Lauren Heath-Jones
Duravit, a Germany-based bathroom fixtures company, has launched Tempano, a series of easy-to-install shower trays for the home. Available in ...
Paul Kelley pushes 'technical boundaries' with modular furniture cube system
The system is designed to enable users to create multifunctional, adaptable pieces, where they are in complete control of the design and function of their furniture
Lauren Heath-Jones
British designer Paul Kelley has created a modular magnetic cube furniture system that enables users to create multifunctional, adaptable pieces, ...
cladkit product news
Mater partners with Ditzel family to create eco-friendly furniture using reclaimed plastic
The furniture uses plastic from recycled fishing nets
Lauren Heath-Jones
Mater, an ethical design brand based in Denmark, has launched a furniture collection made from plastic reclaimed from the ocean. ...
nea studio showcase seaweed's design potential with hand-crafted algae lamps
The seaweed lamps were inspired by Edwards Anker's ethos of incorporating local and organic materials in her designs to give them a sense of place
Lauren Heath-Jones
Nina Edwards Anker, a Brooklyn-based designer and founder of architecture and design practice nea studio, has created a new collection ...
Crown overhaul changing rooms at Saunton Sands spa
Crown Sports Lockers installed rain of Nebraska Oak clothes lockers with RFID Digilocks in the changing rooms
Lauren Heath-Jones
Saunton Sands Hotel in Devon, UK, has completed a £2m expansion of its spa and wellness facilities. The upgrade included ...
x
Sign up with CLAD for regular news updates