The National Museum of African American History and Culture

The National Museum of African American History and CultureImages Courtesy of National Museum of African American History and Culture

The National Museum of African American History and Culture

A century since the founding of the National Memorial Association and the start of a campaign by African-American war veterans for a monument of African American culture, the National Museum of African American History and Culture was finally opened on September 24th. The Museum took $540 million and four years to build, resulting in a striking, and refreshingly unorthodox, architectural construction on Washington DC’s National Mall. The Freelon Adjaye Bond/SmithGroup JJR team, led by Ghanaian-British architect David Adjaye, defiantly broke the white-marble-Corinthian-column convention, opting instead for a bronze-coated aluminum façade bound to provoke a reaction from the critics.

 

The National Museum of African American History and CultureImages Courtesy of National Museum of African American History and Culture

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Hawthorne celebrates the building’s architectural character and beauty of the façade’s “shifting personality” in different qualities of light. However his praise for the NMAAHC does not stop at the building’s aesthetics. Hawthorne highlights the museum’s bold mission to, on one hand, provide a beautiful design, while on the other uplifting the African American culture on a site dominated by white monuments. Due to the history of the museum, the site and the nation in which it is built, the political and cultural prominence of the NMAAHC is hard to ignore. Hawthorne acknowledges Adjaye’s vision to use this to the building’s full advantage, while at the same time applauding the architects’ respect for the museum’s context. Half of the building has been “buried” underground, as a result of Washington’s height regulations. Not only does this produce a neat design above-ground, but also helps to communicate the progression of African American history. 

 

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Wainwright is the only critic to point out the difficulties that can arise from having many voices involved in the design process. Clearly, he attributes some of the museum’s limitations to these circumstances, providing an explanation for some critics, who have been disappointed by the comparison of the building with original visualizations. None of the critics can avoid discussing the building’s intricate relation to its site, and Moore is no exception. His review of the NMAAHC is very much in line with that of Wainwright’s, remarking on the dissonance between the original renderings and the aluminium reality. Despite this, Moore focuses on the building’s conceptual vision and achievements. In accordance with the other critics, he emphasizes the building’s strength that lies in its complexity. Due to the intricate nature of the NMAAHC, certain imperfections can be hard to avoid, but on the whole the architectural novelty hits the mark.

 

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Davidson, like many of the other critics, comments on the division between the museum above and below ground. However in contrast to his fellow critics, Davidson seems to take no issue with the compromised bronze structure, strongly endorsing the aluminum façade which he calls “the most seductive aspect” of the building’s design. The bronzed panelled canopy is an extrapolation of railing designs wrought by slaves, reflected and rotated to create a pattern covering the building. Davidson notes not only the beauty and practicality of the structure, but also its symbolic relevance that seems to orbit the not yet opened, yet already historic, monument.

 

more. nmaahc.si.edu

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