Smithsonian Museum of African American History and Culture by David Adjaye and FAB

| 6 comments

Smithsonian Museum of African American History and Culture by David Adjaye and FAB

Construction will begin this week on the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture in Washington DC designed by architect David Adjaye.

Smithsonian Museum of African American History and Culture by David Adjaye and FAB

Adjaye Associates teamed up with American architects The Freelon Group and Davis Brody Bond to win the design competition for the museum back in 2009, under the collaborative name Freelon Adjaye Bond/SmithGroup (FAB).

Smithsonian Museum of African American History and Culture by David Adjaye and FAB

Sited beside the National Museum of American History and the Washington Monument, the museum will accommodate more than half of its volume below ground.

Smithsonian Museum of African American History and Culture by David Adjaye and FAB

Bronze plates will cover the tiered exterior of the building, perforated in patterns that reference the history of African American craftsmanship.

Smithsonian Museum of African American History and Culture by David Adjaye and FAB

The museum is scheduled to open in 2015, and you can see the original competition-winning proposals for it in our earlier story.

Smithsonian Museum of African American History and Culture by David Adjaye and FAB

You can also see more stories about David Adjaye here.

Smithsonian Museum of African American History and Culture by David Adjaye and FAB

Here's a longer description of the project from Adjaye Associates:


Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture (NMAAHC)
Washington DC, USA, April 2009 - September 2015

Winning the competition to design the National Museum of African American History and Culture has consolidated the practice’s US portfolio with arguably the nation’s most prestigious new building. Located on Constitution Avenue, adjacent to the National Museum of American History and the Washington Monument, the museum will house exhibit galleries, administrative spaces, theatre space and collections storage space for the NMAAHC. As lead designer for the Freelon Adjaye Bond/SmithGroup (FAB) team, David Adjaye’s approach has been to establish both a meaningful relationship to this unique site as well as a strong conceptual resonance with America’s deep and longstanding African heritage. The design rests on three cornerstones: the “corona” shape and form of the building; the extension of the building out into the landscape – the porch; and the bronze filigree envelope.

Smithsonian Museum of African American History and Culture by David Adjaye and FAB

Situated on the Washington Monument grounds the museum maintains a subtle profile in the landscape – more than half is below ground – with five storeys above. The corona is based on elements of the Washington Monument, closely matching the 17-degree angle of the capstone and the panel size and pattern has been developed using the Monument stones as a reference. The entire building is wrapped in an ornamental bronze lattice that is a historical reference to African American craftsmanship. The density of the pattern can be modulated to control the amount of sun¬light and transparency into the interior. The south entry is composed of the Porch and a central water feature. An extension of the building out into the landscape, the porch creates an outdoor room that bridges the gap between the interior and exterior.

At 50m (49’-2”) deep, the setback is similar to other buildings on the north side of the Mall. The underside of the porch roof is tilted upward allowing reflection of the moving water below. This covered area creates a microclimate where breezes combine with the cooling waters to generate a place of refuge from the hot summer sun. There is also an outdoor patio on the porch rooftop that is accessed from a mezzanine level within the building.

Smithsonian Museum of African American History and Culture by David Adjaye and FAB

Inside the building, visitors will be guided on a historical and emotional journey, characterised by vast, column free spaces, a dramatic infusion of natural light and a diverse material palette comprising pre-cast concrete, timber and a glazed skin that sits within the bronze lattice. Below ground, the ambience is contemplative and monumental, achieved by the triple height history gallery and symbolised by the memorial space – the “oculus” – that brings light diffused by a cascade of water into the contemplative space from the Monument grounds. Moving upwards, the views become pivotal, as one circulates along the corona with unrivalled panoramas of the Mall, Federal Triangle buildings and Monument Grounds.

Architect: Freelon Adjaye Bond / SmithGroup
Client: Smithsonian
Structural Engineer: Guy Nordenson and Associates, Robert Silman Associates
Mechanical Engineer: WSP Flack + Kurtz
Total Area: 313,000 sqf
Contract Value: $500m

  • Chris

    perforated metal cladding, how original.

  • Shawn

    Chris –
    That's kind of like saying "bricks, how original" or "glass windows, how original" fact is that perforated screens are a very pragmatic (and often visually appealing) building element that can solve issues such as sun regulation, and control of vistas. Its only recently that the cost of producing these has become so affordable that many designers now use then – NOT as I think you might be suggesting as some kind of fashion/trend.

    • MarcoL

      Perforated steel screens have always been available. It is however relatively new that customized perforated screens have become an affordable option. But let's be honest about this, there is an (obvious) fashion aspect to architecture. The use of perforated metal screens really isn't primarely related to the availabily of perforated metal screens, nor to their uniquely excellent performance as sun regulators or vista controllers. It is an aestetic choice which can be sufficiently defended in terms of function to get built. And as such it is part of a fashion of using patterned (metal) surfaces. One could even pretty much define early buildings of Herzog & de Meuron as the ultimate source of the fashion, though a fashion never comes from one source only. And one could also safely predict that – despite the need of sun regulators and vista controllers – this specific type of façade will somehow rarely come up in propositions in – say – 20 years.

      Nothing wrong with that, I quite like these façades, despite getting a bit tired of seeing the trick being overused, but let's not deny the fashion aspect of architecture. One can date any building by the size and colour of their bricks, the colour of the glass and the type of window frames.

      • bill

        Wow, two intelligent and well reasoned comments in a row… that's awesome.

  • Colonel Pancake

    Did Adjaye close his New York office?

  • Anna

    I think perforated metal facades allow you to make your building look like a singular object, and that sort of object singularity has been something a lot of architects and designers have been working with in the past few years it seems.

    Buildings are usually made up of lots of bits: walls, roofs, windows, doors, gutters, materials, posts, beams, columns, etc. But by wrapping all this mess up in a perforated screen, you can diminish the visual 'noise', and yes, control sunlight and views.

    I wonder if it comes out of the sort of OMA detailing approach, where they hide so much… I think there is something quite sculptural about that kind of singular object approach, it can also be quite scaleless.

    Hmm, need a better theorist than me to talk about this…