National Museum of African American History and Culture
Established after decades of efforts, the Smithsonian Institution’s National Museum of African American History and Culture is the nation’s only museum dedicated exclusively to documenting and highlighting the contributions of African Americans to the greater American story. The shape of the 400,000-square-foot building by lead designer David Adjaye, in collaboration with Perkins + Will, Davis Brody Bond, and SmithGroupJJR, is inspired by Yoruba tribal motifs and is clad in ornamental panels adapted from iron castings made by slaves in Charleston and New Orleans. The museum’s ten galleries fall into three main sections: History, Culture, and Community, and begin four stories below ground. As the exhibits move closer to the present day, the visitor rises higher in the building, finally reaching the fourth floor and its expansive views of the Mall. The Museum’s wide-ranging collection includes among its 33,000 items both a hymnal carried by Harriet Tubman dating to 1876 and the Mothership from George Clinton and Parliament Funkadelic.
A comprehensive and integrated environmental graphics, donor recognition, and wayfinding sign program was developed for the Museum, with the goal of creating a seamless connection between the exterior elements and the interior spaces. The signs recall the intricate cladding, featuring layers of copper colored material and sandblasted glass. Floor numbers are cut through the layered panel at elevator directories. Freestanding directories appear to emerge directly from the floor. The donor recognition wall consists of glass panels with etched and infilled names installed over copper walls. Outside the museum, the designers created the main exterior identification, the name of the museum sandblasted onto a retaining wall, providing a subtle identification for the museum, allowing the iconic architecture of the building to tell its story.
Client: Perkins + Will/The Freelon Group
Architect: Freelon Adjaye Bond/SmithGroup