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CFA 18/JUL/13-2

Location: 
14th Street and Constitution Avenue, NW
United States
Owner: 
Smithsonian Institution
Property: 
National Museum of African American History and Culture
Description: 
Revised landscape design
Review Type: 
Final
Previous Review: 

Letter

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.

Sincerely,

/s/Thomas E. Luebke, FAIA
Secretary

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

Report

27 June 2013

Dear Ms. Trowbridge:

In its meeting of 20 June, the Commission of Fine Arts reported on the inspection of a mockup for the corona panels on the site of the National Museum of African American History and Culture at 15th Street and Madison Drive, NW, on the afternoon of 19 June.

In their discussion of the inspection, the Commission members observed that the corona is the single most important element of the entire project which establishes the iconic identity of the museum; they noted that the original design intent for the corona material was to be bronze to create a shimmering, lustrous effect under many lighting conditions. Thus, they expressed their strong disappointment with the two mockup panels presented, characterizing the Kynar finishes as putty–like, muddy, and dull—falling far short of the beautiful poetic intention promised by the concept design. Instead, they recommended the consideration of other finishes, such as an applied and burnished coating containing actual bronze as was shown to the staff and other consulting parties last December, to achieve the magical quality that is critical to the success of the project. Finally, they expressed their frustration with being presented with only two panels that they considered too small to be effective in conveying the proposed visual character, and they suggested that a baseline mockup of real bronze be presented in order to compare the proposed substitute finish with the original material intended.

In conclusion, the Commission requested a diligent search for alternatives and advised that this review provides the Smithsonian the opportunity yet to achieve the quality that this important national museum deserves. As always, the staff is available to assist you with the next submission.

Sincerely,

/s/Thomas E. Luebke, FAIA
Secretary

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, Freelon Adjaye Bond | SmithGroup
Peter May, National Park Service