CFA 20/OCT/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
Previous Review


Dear Ms. Trowbridge:

In its meeting of 20 October, the Commission of Fine Arts reviewed the revised concept design for the National Museum of African American History and Culture at Constitution Avenue and 14th Street, NW. The Commission noted the continued refinement of the design and the responsiveness to its prior advice, and approved the submission with several comments.

In general, the Commission members praised the design for its balance between monumentality and intimacy in the architecture and landscape of the museum. In their discussion of the site, they supported the overall development of the design, including the water element along Constitution Avenue, the sequence of gathering spaces and curving walks, and the general disposition of trees. For the design of the south entrance porch and pool, they suggested that the water be more still and reflective as a counterpoint to the cascade at the oculus on the north; they noted that the use of inscriptions as a pattern across the entire basin may compete with the intricacy of the corona and may lessen the impact of the words themselves—whereas a more limited use of quotations would create the opportunity for poignancy at specific moments within the site. In support of the goal of providing useable spaces in the landscape, they suggested increasing the number of trees where possible and considering the appearance of the grounds and water elements during winter conditions.

Regarding the design of the exterior of the building, the Commission members supported the objective of making the enclosure system at the entrance level as transparent and elegantly detailed as possible. They expressed a strong preference for a modeled treatment of the corona's cast open-work screen panels; they noted the importance of using bronze as an authentic material that, through its slow patination, will register the passage of time and impart a more poetic character to this monumental building. For the night lighting of the museum's exterior, they strongly encouraged a design that accentuates the laciness of the corona without being overwhelmed by horizontal uplighting of the tiered volumes.

The Commission expressed its appreciation for the thoughtful revisions of the design and looks forward to reviewing future submissions for this noteworthy project. As always, the staff is available to assist you with the next submission.


/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, Director, National Museum of African American History and Culture
David Adjaye, Adjaye Associates
Kathryn Gustafson, Gustafson Guthrie Nichol
Phil Freelon, The Freelon Group
Peter May, National Park Service