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26 July 2013

Dear Ms. Trowbridge:

In its meeting of 18 July, the Commission of Fine Arts reviewed a revised landscape design for the National Museum of African American History and Culture at 14th Street and Constitution Avenue, NW. The Commission members present recommended approval of the curved wall and other landscape features, while requesting further refinement and material selection of certain elements of the design to complete the approval.

The Commission members expressed appreciation for the thoughtfulness of the planting design, and they supported the proposed treatment of the boundary wall toward the northern edge of the site, observing that it has the dignity and presence to function as a metaphorical threshold into the museum precinct. Agreeing that the act of crossing the threshold should reflect the difficulty of the oceanic passage in African–American history, they suggested exploring other means of indicating a threshold, such as changes to the material or color of the pavement. They also questioned the proposed placement and design of bollards as a security measure, commenting that a line of bollards within openings in a low wall is so conventional and ubiquitous in Washington that it could distract from the dignity and solemnity of this approach. They recommended instead a design that will fulfill the security function in a manner appropriate to the eloquence of this symbolic wall. The Commission members also endorsed the revised design of a bench in one of the reading groves, noting their support for the thoughtful design and unique form of the benches for this landscape. However, they commented that the change in material from stone to metal will affect the experience of this space; they requested final review of the material and color specifications for the bench. Finally, the Commission encouraged the Smithsonian to coordinate its sign program with other agencies, such as the National Park Service, having signs in the vicinity.

The Commission's recommendation for approval includes the curving wall (except for the bollards), the signs, the overall landscape changes, and the seating, subject to the submission of material and finish samples for such elements as the corona, curtainwall mullions, areaway railings, guardrails, handrails, lighting, benches, and other bollards. As there was not a quorum for the review of the project, this recommendation will be placed on the agenda for confirmation at the Commission's meeting of 19 September. Please coordinate the submission of the next presentation with the staff which, as always, is available to assist you.


/s/Thomas E. Luebke, FAIA

Ann Trowbridge, Associate Director for Planning
Office of Planning and Project Management
Smithsonian Institution
P.O. Box 37012, MRC 511
Washington, DC 20013–7012

cc: Lonnie Bunch, National Museum of African American History and Culture
David Adjaye, Adjaye Associates
Phil Freelon, The Freelon Group
Kathryn Gustafson, Gustafson Guthrie Nichol

Last Modified: July 30, 2013