National Museum of African American History and Culture
14th Street and Constitution Avenue, NW
Dear Ms. Trowbridge:
In its meeting of 16 September, the Commission of Fine Arts reviewed and approved the concept submission for the proposed National Museum of African American History and Culture at 14th Street and Constitution Avenue, NW. The Commission commended the design team for its substantial progress in addressing the difficult design problems posed by the size of the museum program and the constraints of the site.
The Commission members observed that the overall design must reconcile relationships within the context of the site, resolving the platonic form of the museum building within a picturesque landscape as well as in relation to the Beaux-Arts order of the Mall and Smithsonian museums to the east. They noted in particular the great opportunity in making more explicit the museum's intended relationship with the Washington Monument itself, commenting that the design is not yet taking full advantage of its spectacular proximity to the Monument. They expressed interest in the further exploration of alternative alignments of the building elements to express the geometric order of the Mall, the Monument grounds, and the overall city grid, as suggested by the design team.
The Commission members expressed strong support for the conceptual site plan, particularly for its reinterpretation of the curvilinear paths of the Monument grounds in the museum site. They commented that the least successful part of the site design is along 14th Street, where more attention should be given to pedestrian circulation and to mitigating the imposition of the service entrance, such as by consolidating the service access with the adjacent National Museum of American History. They noted that the volume of the building, now shifted southward from the previous baseline scheme, may protrude too much into the central space of the National Mall. This effect is exaggerated by the form and massive scale of the canopy; while they supported the concept of the canopy as a welcoming feature, they suggested a refinement of its design which may help to reduce its perceived volume and clarify the museum's relationship to its context.
Regarding the design of water elements on the site, the Commission members noted that bodies of water of the large scale proposed generally exist only along the axis of the National Mall. However, they acknowledged the desirability of a water feature on the south side of the museum as part of the entrance experience and recommended that its shape be refined in conjunction with the design of the canopy and pedestrian circulation through the site. The Commission members expressed strong concerns about the extensive wetland water element along the entire Constitution Avenue frontage, which they observed would be unprecedented in this context.
In their discussion of the building design, the Commission reiterated its support for the simple form of the corona in the landscape, suggesting that transparency through the building at the ground level be emphasized. They also recommended careful consideration of the character and effect of the corona exterior, including its material, color, and transparency; they noted the possible implications of views through this enclosure system on the internal planning of the museum, particularly in areas of circulation.
The Commission members expressed appreciation for the advancement of the design proposal and look forward to review of the next submission. As always, the staff is available to assist you.
/s/Thomas E. Luebke, AIA
Associate Director for Planning
P.O. Box 37012, MRC 511
Washington, DC 20013-7012
cc: Lonnie Bunch, National Museum of African American History and Culture
Phil Freelon, Freelon Adjaye Bond/Smith Group
David Adjaye, Freelon Adjaye Bond/Smith Group
Kathryn Gustafson, Gustafson Guthrie Nichol Ltd.
Peter May, National Park Service