See the Designs for David Adjaye's Glittering New African American Culture Museum in DC

David Adjaye's design for the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture
(© Adjaye Associates)

The largest of several new museums devoted to African American history and the Civil Rights movement, the $500 million National Museum of African American History and Culture (or NMAAHC for short, kind of), broke ground on the National Mall this week. It joins two other in-progress institutions, the sprawling National Center for Civil and Human Rights slated for Atlanta, to the upcoming International African American Museum in Charleston, each of them larger in both size and scope than their predecessors.

For the NMAAHC project, the Tanzanian-born, London-based Ghanian architect and Design Miami designer of the year David Adjaye beat out a formidable roster of opponents in 2009 — Foster + Partners, Moshe Safdie, DS+R — to create the new 350,000 square-foot Smithsonian museum. His design, a collaboration with the Freelon Group, Davis Brody Bond, and SmithGroup, foregrounds his characteristic attention to texture and natural light: copper plates perforated with designs evoking traditional African crafts cover the exterior, changing color according to the position of the sun and moderating the natural light that penetrates the building; inside, wooden embellishments hang from the ceiling, with skylights throughout; and a spacious porch extends from the south entrance into the landscape. Its most distinct feature is its “corona” shape — an inverted, stacked pyramid.


The seven-story museum will be Adjaye's largest project to date, while past accomplishments include the Museum of Contemporary Art/Denver and the wildly colorful interiors of the Nobel Peace Center in Oslo. NMAAHC's focus will be on artifacts that symbolize African American life from slavery through the Civil Rights movement, including the reconstruction and the Harlem Renaissance. The collection boasts landmark objects in black history, including Emmett Till’s coffin, the dress Rosa Parks wore during her storied bus ride, and the original “Soul Train” sign that hung over the "hippest trip in America."

Elsewhere in the capital, Adjaye has been tapped to create new buildings for the the Francis A. Gregory and Washington Highlands libaries, the preliminary designs of which look like they're going to be very colorful playhouses. Completion of the NMAAHC is scheduled for 2015.

To see images of David Adjaye's National Museum of African American History and Culture click on the slide show.