Davis Brody Bond's plan to expand Baltimore's National Great Blacks in Wax Museum has been approved. As the Baltimore Business Journal reports, the $75 million overhaul hopes to foresee a significant increase in attendance, bringing in more than 500,000 visitors annually.
A destination for both tourists and locals, the expanded museum will open itself to the surrounding community beyond normal operating hours. It will house a multi-purpose space, retail, orientation theatre, changing gallery and educational programs as well as the museum and a bus drop-off on the main thoroughfare.
From the architects: In the thirty-two years since its founding, The National Great Blacks in Wax Museum has experienced significant growth. With over one hundred fifty thousand visitors annually, it is one of the Maryland’s most beloved tourist attractions. Connection to the community has always been an important focus of the Museum; it has had a profound positive impact on its neighborhood and among its individual patrons. The decision to locate the museum to the Oliver district of East Baltimore was a conscious one stemming from a desire to nurture a strong relationship between the institution and its community. The museum’s vision endorses “education, history, and example to help culturally disadvantaged youth overcome feelings of alienation, defeatism and despair.”
The design of the museum began with an exercise in urban planning which identified three guiding principles: activate the street edge, enhance greenspace, and extend the operational hours of the museum to maximize the potential of the city block. These guiding principles intuitively placed the museum galleries and park in the rear to maximize the amount of greenspace and buffer them from road born noise and the adjacent row homes. In contrast the museum’s multi-purpose, retail, orientation theatre, changing gallery, educational functions, and the bus drop-off are all placed along the main thoroughfare of East North Avenue to activate the streetscape and extend the museum’s presence in the community beyond normal operating hours.
Working with Maryland Historical Trust and the Urban Design Architectural Review Panel, the design team sought to integrate two historic bookends at each side of East North Avenue to both compliment and contrast the floating volume above and in between. To the east, the Bauernschmidt Mansion (built in 1893) will be renovated with a period correct restoration and will function in the future as a conference and educational center, while the Firehouse, (built in 1894) located at the west end of the block, will retain the exterior walls and receive a full interior retrofit for its future use as a children’s museum. The historic structures anchor both ends of the site allowing the new museum to float above and spiral outward over the historic structures complimented by an open and transparent ground floor experience.
Large overhangs to the sides and rear, provide passive shading to the galleries, create covered walkways, and form natural entry points for the ground level. The structural overhang along East North Avenue forms a natural marquee and entry point to reinforce this important urban edge. The design additionally utilizes the sites 30’ sloping topography to create a gravity collected rainwater harvesting system via a series of cisterns and constructed wetland terraces while neatly tucking a naturally ventilated 70 stall parking garage under the rear yard.
The gallery sequence for the museum is planned as a chronological experience centered on the memorial garden. By spiraling the shape of this linear experience the building creates an overlap of history, space, and exhibits that speaks to the word in the Akan language of Ghana ‘Sankofa’ which means; "to go back and reclaim our past so we can move forward; so we understand why and how we came to be who we are today.” This ascending spiral of program and space creates an architectural metaphor for the reclamation of our past in order to move forward into the future.
The first floor gallery integrates the natural terrain of the site through the use of a gently sloping exhibit floor and a series of offset exhibit walls. By emulating the 1:30 site slope the ground floor gallery creates an organic exhibit sequence that visually connects to the park beyond. The level 1 gallery will house exhibits from Out of Africa up to the Industrial Revolution. The museum’s level 2 galleries will be home to exhibits ranging from The Industrial Revolution to the present and are situated within the floating channel glass and Ultra High Performance Concrete (UHPC) volume above. The natural progression from past to present to future culminates in the third floor education and multi-purpose spaces that open outward to the rooftop park. Symbolic of the future, the public rooftop provides a broader view of the world encouraging visitors to think beyond their immediate surrounding while providing views of greater Baltimore and the horizon.
The building utilizes a simple material palette of wood, glass, ultra-high performance concrete (UHPC), and metal panel. Contrast is provided through texture, shade, and shadow to create a monochrome experience of black to white. The ground floor is largely clad in glass to maximize the transparency from East North Avenue to the park beyond. The lower gallery enclosure, though largely clad in glass uses a series of spandrel glass and offset walls to allow ambient light into the gallery while limiting direct sunlight. The floating upper volume uses a trombe wall system to buffer the galleries through the use of a composite curtain wall system of UHPC and Channel Glass. The UHPC ribs provide a structural frame that hold the channel glass skin. The cavity is backlit with strip LED lights powered by photovoltaic roof panels to provide a glowing affect similar to light passing through the stem of a candle.
The new National Great Blacks in Wax Museum will be a destination for neighborhood residents and tourists alike; a vibrant model of sustainability filled with arts, culture, education, and a welcoming sense of community.
It is hoped that the museum will achieve LEED Gold upon completion.
Location1601 East North Avenue, Baltimore, MD 21213, United States
Architecture, Interiors, PlanningDavis Brody Bond
S/MEP Engineering, Lighting, Sustainability, Security, AV/IT, Code ConsultingBuro Happold
Site & Civil EngineeringSTV Inc
Landscape ArchitectureGustafson Guthrie Nichol
Historic PreservationEHT Traceries Inc
Kitchen ConsultantHopkins Foodservice Specialists Inc
Cost EstimatingPete Federman FAIA
Exhibit DesignTaylor Studios Inc
ClientThe National Great Blacks in Wax Museum
PhotographsDavis Brody Bond