CFA 17/MAR/11-1


National Museum of African American History and Culture
14th Street and Constitution Avenue, NW
United States

Smithsonian Institution
National Museum of African American History and Culture
New museum
Review Type
Revised concept


Dear Ms. Trowbridge:

In its meeting of 17 March, the Commission of Fine Arts reviewed and approved the revised concept submission for the proposed National Museum of African American History and Culture at 14th Street and Constitution Avenue, NW. The Commission members expressed appreciation for the staked mockup of the proposal on the site prior to the meeting, which they said demonstrated commendable progress in the development of the building and landscape.

Noting the design team's responsiveness to the ongoing consultations in the development of the proposal, the Commission members reiterated their support for the simplicity of the site design, now characterized by two curving paths within the gently mounded landscape. In support of this concept, they recommended that the skylight elements be treated as minimally and invisibly as possible to maintain this simplicity. They recommended eliminating the linear pond and rain garden at the north side of the site, which they said may be inappropriately naturalistic within the existing urban context along Constitution Avenue, and suggested that areas for larger trees could be developed at the northern corners of the site. They expressed strong support for the overall design of the south side of the site—including the gradually sloping lawn, reflecting pool, and paved plaza at the front entrance—which they said could become a highly attractive venue for performances overlooking the National Mall. They recommended consultation with an acoustician to optimize the design of this space for potential programming; they cautioned against lively water features as a distraction in this location, suggesting instead a more calm and reflective character.

The Commission members expressed enthusiasm for the development of the building design, endorsing the concept of the south canopy for its contribution to the visitor experience, both at the ground and overlook levels. They strongly supported the conceptual design of the corona enclosure system, with the exact dimensions to result from the development and detailing of the system. They suggested that the perforated outer panels be treated as a more abstract and nuanced pattern, rather than symmetrically. They recommended that the ground-floor glass enclosure be recessed from the bottom edge of the corona, whose character should be understood as floating above the transparent base. Overall, they commented that the final success of the design is dependent on the beautiful detailing of all elements of the enclosure systems.

In conclusion, the Commission members expressed great enthusiasm and anticipation for the museum's presence on the site, observing that the development of the design now illustrates how this museum will become part of the community of other buildings along the National Mall.

They look forward to the review of the next submission; as always, the staff is available to assist you.


/s/Thomas E. Luebke, FAIA

Ann Trowbridge
Associate Director for Planning
Smithsonian Institution
P.O. Box 37012, MRC 511
Washington, DC 20013-7012

cc: Lonnie Bunch, Director, National Museum of African American History and Culture
David Adjaye, Adjaye Associates
Phil Freelon, The Freelon Group Architects
Kathryn Gustafson, Gustafson Guthrie Nichol Ltd.
Peter May, National Park Service