Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture

Washington DC, USA

  • Status
  • Size
    39,019 m² / 420,000 ft²
  • Category
    Civic, Culture
  • Design Architect
    Adjaye Associates
  • Architect of Record
    Freelon Group (Perkins + Will)
  • Associate Architect
    Davis Brody Bond, SmithGroupJJR
  • Client
    Smithsonian Institution
  • Façade Consultant
    R.A. Heintges & Associates
  • Landscape Architect
    Gustafson Guthrie Nichol
  • Lighting Consultants
    Fisher Marantz Stone
  • Mechanical/Plumbing Engineer
    WSP Flack + Kurt
  • Structural Engineer
    Guy Nordeson and Associates, Robert Silman Associates
  • Security Consultants
    ARUP North America
  • Sustainability Consultant
    Rocky Mountain Institute
  • Awards
    -AIA Institute Honour Award for Architecture, 2019
    -Best in Competition, AIANY Design Awards, 2018
    -Beazley Design of the Year, 2017
    -Award for Excellence in Architecture, AIA|DC Chapter Awards, 2017

Technical Info +

The NMAAHC illustrates how museums can offer a specific narrative alongside a universal message. The African American story is about one culture having empathy with another. The hope is that the museum will offer an open exploration of history, culture and society – thereby addressing profound aspects of the human condition and the positive value inherent in creating a forum for multiple interpretations of America’s history and demography – however uncomfortable those may be. - David Adjaye

Adjaye Associates won the competition to design the National Museum of African American History and Culture to consolidate the firm’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 houses exhibit galleries, administrative spaces, theatre space, and collection storage space for the NMAAHC. As Lead Designer for the Freelon Adjaye Bond/SmithGroup (FAB) team, David Adjaye’s approach was to establish both a meaningful relationship to the unique site and 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.

Situated on the Washington Monument grounds, the museum maintains a subtle profile in the landscape. 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-coated aluminium lattice that is a historical reference to the Benin shrines of West Africa and African American craftsmanship.

The density of the pattern can be modulated to control the amount of sunlight and transparency into the interior. The south entry is composed of the Porch and a central water feature. An extension of the building 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, reflecting 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 that is accessed from the fifth floor of the building.

Inside, visitors are 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-coated aluminium lattice. Below ground, the triple height history gallery and memorial space – the “oculus” – that brings light diffused by a cascade of water, create a contemplative and monumental ambience. As one ascends through the museum, the views become pivotal:one circulates along the corona with unrivalled panoramas of the Mall, Federal Triangle buildings and Monument Grounds.