Details on the new National Museum of African American History and Culture

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Yesterday I joined a meeting of the curatorial and education staff at the National Museum of African American History and Culture to discuss a potential partnership with Drayton Hall, and it was great to see again Rex Ellis, Debbie Mack, Bill Pretzer, and Michele Gates Moresi as well as meet so many of the other staff who are working to make this new museum a reality.  The museum recently broke ground on the Mall in Washington, DC and is scheduled to open in 2015.

While I was there, I spied a three-dimensional model of the new museum in the lobby and it thought I’d share some photos to give you a close up of the design (and sorry for the reflections–it’s in a vitrine near a big window).  Freelon Adjaye Bond/SmithGroup, a consortium of four independent architectural firms that designed the building, laid out this vision:

The primary architectural idea for the museum was derived from the classical tripartite column with its base, shaft and capital. In Yoruban art and architecture, the column or wooden post was usually crafted with a capital resembling a crown. This crown or corona form is the central idea which has driven the design of the museum. The bronze corona also reflects an African American presence that is a permanent part of the American landscape.

Reaching toward the sky, the bronze clad corona expresses faith, hope and resiliency. Internal to the building, the corona forms a perimeter zone which surrounds the primary galleries. Daylight enters this zone through patterned openings in the bronze cladding and through skylights—washing wood-covered walls with light while providing views upward and outward. At night, the corona glows, presenting stunning views of the museum from a variety of vantage points in and around the Mall. The corona sits on a monumental plinth, or base, clad in stone that hovers over the site and contains offices, the café and shops. The “Garden of Dreams,” located atop the plinth, offers views of the National Mall and a quiet place for visitors to rest and contemplate their visit.

Entering the museum, visitors arrive at the Central Hall and are oriented to the museums’ offerings. Four “pillars” flank the Central Hall—expressing the museum’s primary structure and service core areas. As visitors move through this generous space, which includes a dynamic multi-media display, the Musical Crossroads exhibition is introduced through overlooks to the lower level. The other core exhibitions located above are accessed by way of a grand staircase positioned in the sky-lit zone between the corona and the galleries.

As visitors move through the exhibitions, important points in the city are highlighted by a series of openings which frame specific views. These openings or “lenses” offer respite and pause at selected moments along the exhibition experience. These framed perspectives are a reminder that the Museum presents a view of America through the lens of African American history and culture.

It may be hard to follow this description, but fortunately, the model helps immensely.  I can’t wait to see if they can pull off this ambitious vision.  See you in 2015!