Friday, September 9, 2016

Celebrating Architecture and Culture

The opening of the

National Museum of African American History and Culture

This historic museum will be dedicated September 24, 2016 and will showcase African American history and culture.

Looking north from the building, visitors can see the White House, which made history in 2008 with the election of President Barack Obama. Rising to the east beyond the National Mall and other Smithsonian museums is the U.S. Capitol, seat of the nation’s legislature. And to the south and west are monuments and memorials to Thomas Jefferson, Martin Luther King Jr., Abraham Lincoln, and George Washington, whose contributions to African American history and culture are told in the museum. 

David Adjaye, Lead Designer
Philip Freelon, Lead Architect
The team lead by architects David Adjaye and Philip Freelon is very interesting.  This team embodies both sides of the African-American culture - our ancestral African roots and historical American roots.

From one perspective, the building's architecture follows classical Greco-Roman form in its use of a base and shaft, topped by a capital or corona.  In this case, the corona is inspired by the three-tiered crowns used in Yoruban art from West Africa.  Moreover, the building's main entrance is a welcoming porch, which has architectural roots in Africa and throughout the African Diaspora, especially the American South and Caribbean.  Finally, by wrapping the entire building in an ornamental bronze-colored metallic lattice, Adjaye the architect pays homage to the intricate ironwork that was crafted by African Americans in Louisiana, South Carolina, and elsewhere.

Significantly, the enveloping lattice also opens the building to exterior daylight, which can be modulated according to the season. In one sense, this is architecturally practical and sustainable—and will help the building become the first Smithsonian museum to achieve LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) Gold certification. But the openness to light is also symbolic for a museum that seeks to stimulate open dialogues about race and to help promote reconciliation and healing. From the topmost corona, the view reaches ever upward, helping to remind visitors that the museum is an inspirational open to all as a place of meaning, memory, reflection, laughter, and hope.

Many of the world’s great buildings have integrated their architectural form with their function or purpose. The NMAAHC follows this principle in the sense that the building (as a “container”) embraces its content—which is the American story told through the lens of African American history and culture. Fulfilling a decades-long dream, the NMAAHC building is a community resource that helps visitors learn about themselves, their histories, and their common cultures. The light reflected from the bronze-colored lattice will serve as a beacon that reminds us of what we were, what challenges we still face, and what we may hope to become. As Lonnie G. Bunch III, founding director of the NMAAHC, has described it, “This building will sing for all of us.” 



1. National Museum of African American History and Culture website

Additional Information

David Adjaye

Philip Freelon