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Obama speaks at the ground breaking ceremony for the National Museum of African American History and Culture

Freelon Adjaye Bond/Smith Group
Freelon Adjaye Bond/Smith Group

President Obama attended the official ground breaking ceremony of the National Museum for African American History and Culture (NMAAHC) on February 22, commemorating this milestone for the Smithsonian Institution’s new museum on Washington’s National Mall. The Tanzanian-born, London-based architect David Adjaye serves as Lead Designer for the Freelon Adjaye Bond/SmithGroup (FAB) team that was selected by the Smithsonian Institute back in 2009 in the international competition for the design of the nation’s new prestigious building.

The President began his brief remarks by stating, “As others have mentioned, this day has been a long time coming. The idea for a museum dedicated to African Americans was first put forward by black veterans of the Civil War. And years later, the call was picked up by members of the civil rights generation -– by men and women who knew how to fight for what was right and strive for what is just. This is their day. This is your day. It’s an honor to be here to see the fruit of your labor.”

Continue reading for more information on the project and a video of President Obama’s speech.

The design deeply roots itself to the unique site and embodies a strong conceptual resonance with America’s deep and longstanding African heritage. Situated on Washington Monument grounds, it maintains a subtle profile within the landscape with more than half the 313,000 square foot building below ground and five stories above. It will house exhibit galleries, administration spaces, a theatre space and collections storage space for the NMAAHC.

David Adjaye said, “The museum is located on a monumental site and it is truly a monumental project that has been nearly 200 years in the making. We always conceived of this building as a kind of turning point, a knuckle, a joint, which articulates a sensitivity to the original Beaux Arts masterplan as well as an enduring expression of monumentality. That’s the critical issue that we’ve been very concerned about, making sure the museum is not just another building on the mall, but a building that ends the mall properly and begins the monument.”

The design rests on three cornerstones: the “corona” shape and form of the building; the extension of the building out into the landscape – the porch; and the bronze filigree envelope that serves as a historical reference to African American craftsmanship.

Inside the building, visitors will be guided on a historical and emotional journey, characterized by vast, column free spaces, a dramatic infusion of natural light and a diverse material palette comprising pre-cast concrete, timber and a glazed skin that sits within the bronze lattice.

Freelon Adjaye Bond/Smith Group
Freelon Adjaye Bond/Smith Group

Below ground, the ambience is contemplative and monumental, achieved by the triple height history gallery and symbolized by the memorial space – the “oculus” – that brings light diffused by a cascade of water into the contemplative space from the Monument grounds.

Moving upwards, the views become pivotal, as one circulates along the corona with unrivaled panoramas of the Mall, Federal Triangle buildings and Monument Grounds.

The museum will be open in 2015 and cost approximately $500 million.

Lead Designer: David Adjaye Design Team: Freelon Adjaye Bond/Smith Group Client: Smithsonian Institution Structural Engineer: Guy Nordenson and AssociatesRobert Silman Associates Mechanical Engineer: WSP Flack + Kurtz

Via Adjaye Associates

Cite:Karissa Rosenfield. "Obama speaks at the ground breaking ceremony for the National Museum of African American History and Culture" 24 Feb 2012. ArchDaily. Accessed . <>