Freelon Adjaye Bond :: Smithsonian Museum of African American History and Culture

By: Anesu Dhliwayo, B.Arch Candidate
Rendering of National Museum of African American History and Culture
As a pre-cursor to the NOMA Conference in Boston, David Adjaye and Phil Freelon unveiled their design of the Museum of African American History and Culture (MAAHC) during a lecture at the Harvard Graduate School of Design. David Adjaye won the competition along with Freelon Group, Davis Brody Bond and SmithGroup. The Freelon Adjaye Bond/SmithGroup team was chosen over five other well-known architects, Diller Scoffidio & Renfro, British architect Norman Forster, Devrouax & Purnell and Pei Cobb Freed & Partners Architects, Moody Nolan and Antoine Predock, and Moshe Safdie and Associates.

The site for MAAHC is on the National Mall across the Washington Monument in Washington DC. Adjaye described the site as a “hinge between different programs with a nodal quality connecting the monuments of DC.” The inspirational images for the design ranged from architecture and tectonics of West Africa to the modern porches of houses in Harlem. Instead of focusing on the dark moments in African American history, the design of the museum conveys a message of overcoming, triumph, and celebration with a spiritual motif that is translated into the form of the building. In contrast to a sculpture integrating water and light into the interior core of the museum that symbolizes Martin Luther King’s quote, “justice falling down like rain,” Adjaye promised that the museum will also contain the “truth, reality and trauma…weeping trauma” of African American History.

The golden skin of the building is sophisticated, it is expected to be operable to reveal artifacts and be sustainable. Adjaye and Freelon vowed that the MAAHC, scheduled to open in 2015, will be LEED Gold or better. The architects hope that visitors each leave with a different message because of the complexity of the African American History and how they react to them emotionally.

Adjaye described the relationship of the 4 firms in the team as a “jazz ensemble that is committed and shares the same vision for the project while sending a message of collaboration.” An audience member boldly asked whether Freelon Adjaye Bond/SmithGroup won the competition because their team consists of an African and African American architect, Freelon gracefully replied, “We had the best scheme and that’s why we won.”

To see more of the MAAHC design visit