On April 14 Lonnie Bunch, director of the National Museum of African American History and Culture (AAHC), announced the selection of Freelon Adjaye Bond/SmithGroup to design the museum’s freestanding building on the National Mall, in Washington, D.C. The winning team, comprising The Freelon Group, Adjaye Associates, Davis Brody Bond, and SmithGroup, was part of shortlist of six teams announced on January 29. The finalists’ proposals for the museum design were unveiled at the Smithsonian Institution Building, also known in Washington as the Castle, on March 27.

Images courtesy Smithsonian / Imaging Atelier
A team comprising The Freelon Group, Adjaye Associates, Davis Brody Bond, and SmithGroup was selected to design the new National Museum of African American History and Culture.

In addition to Bunch, the 10-person competition jury included Smithsonian officials and prominent members of the African-American community: Mike Bellamy, director of the Smithsonian’s Office of Engineering, Design and Construction; AAHC council members James A. Johnson, Franklin D. Raines, and Linda Johnson Rice; Robert Kogod, member of Smithsonian Board of Regents; Sheryl Kolasinski, director of Smithsonian’s Office of Planning and Project Management. The remaining jurors were Boston Globe architecture critic and RECORD contributor Robert Campbell, National Endowment for the Arts director of design Maurice Cox, and MIT School of Architecture dean Adèle Naudé Santos.

A public campaign to build a black history museum on the National Mall dates to 1913, and faced roadblocks ranging from the Great Depression to political opposition by Jesse Helms. Congress authorized the creation of AAHC in 2003, and Bunch, who had left the Smithsonian in 2000 to run the Chicago Historical Society, came on as the museum’s first director in 2005. Two years later The Freelon Group and Davis Brody Bond were selected to devise the museum’s program, and in summer 2008 the Smithsonian issued a Request for Qualifications.

Federal funds will cover half of the museum’s $500 million cost, and Bunch says he has the dual tasks of seeking artifacts for the AAHC’s nascent collection and raising capital for the building from private sources. “In order to shift the fundraising into high gear we needed the architectural drawings,” he says.

Freelon Adjaye Bond/SmithGroup’s design proposal features a two-tiered volume covered in a bronze screen rising from a stone and glass base. Its zigzagging shape loosely resembles an African headdress. Yet after the completion of a contracting process, the winning team—which will be given access to opinions submitted during a public-comment period that opened March 27—will further develop the design, potentially with a different outcome. The building will begin construction in 2012, and open near the base of the Washington Monument in 2015.

Look for more in-depth coverage in the May issue of RECORD.