Monday, March 30, 2009

Design For New Black History Museum

On Jan 30th, I posted an article on the design of the National Museum for African American History on the mall of the Washington Monument. During that time, the design review had only six teams from the original twenty-two who had submitted their RFP documents. These included, Foster and Partners/URS, a joint venture, with the Foster firm as architect and URS handling the engineering design. Other teams are: Devrouax & Purnell, Freelon Adjaye Bond, I.M. Pei and Moshe Safdie and Associates. Though currently, the jury process has not narrowed the selection past these six firms left since January, conceptual designs have been unveiled on Friday, of the various teams' proposed conceptual design of the Museum.

It was the first opportunity to see what the physical structure might look like and themes which look like they might be found in the final design include water features and music halls, evocations of slave ships and the African past, and vistas acknowledging its important, monumental neighbors. The models of the museum, set to topout in 2015, are on display at the Castle Building for public comment until April 6 and mirrored elements of other familiar museums. Some of these are the circular paths of the Guggenheim Museum in New York, the wetlands and water movement of the National Museum of the American Indian, the open floor of the National Museum of American History and light that cascades into interior and underground spaces, as at the Pyramid at the Louvre.

The museum will occupy a five-acre plot near the Washington Monument and the National Museum of American History. It is one of the last open spaces on the Mall, and the museum's founders have specified that the building must respect the history and visage of the monument. As part of their proposals, the architects were asked to acknowledge their own understanding of the importance of the African American experience.

Lonnie G. Bunch, the founding director of the museum and the chairman of the jury that will select the wining design among other things asked the teams for a clear expression of "the dark corners" of the African American experience in the United States. "We want a building that is worthy of a rich cultural heritage," Bunch said, "and we want it to work as a museum." The conceptual designs, he continued, were requested to "give us enough so I know you are the team I want to dance with."

Officials with the Smithsonian, which will oversee the details of construction and exhibition content, said they didn't expect the building to be very tall, but it would cover 300,000 to 350,000 square feet. The submissions are:

-- Devrouax & Purnell and Pei Cobb Freed & Partners envision a seven-story structure (with two of the floors below ground) that features a circular interior within a box shape. It would have a roof garden with landscaping inspired by a pattern on one of the architects' grandmother's quilt. Pei, a recipient of the Pritzker Architecture Prize, designed the East Building of the National Gallery of Art. Devrouax & Purnell did Nationals Park.

-- Diller Scofidio and Renfro, in association with KlingStubbins, submitted a table-shaped building wrapped in glass. The renderings show a place featuring billboard-size photographs of famous black figures and moments, and where jazz musicians might perform. One image depicts slaves in a ship in a huge Middle Passage Gallery. The plans feature an amphitheater facing the Lincoln Memorial.

-- The Freelon Group, Adjaye Associates and Davis Brody Bond designed a museum with two of the above-ground stories shaped like wide baskets. The exterior is covered with copper screens that change color during the day. At various points inside the museum, there are stopping places that look to the Capitol and other landmarks.

-- Foster and Partners/URS foresee a circular building. Visitors enter a ramp and descend to a lower level to start the museum experience, which begins with slavery and winds through the stories of freedom, sports and the arts. At the top of the four stories, visitors enter an area of "celebration" and face a huge window, looking out at the Washington Monument and Lincoln Memorial. As with the other architecture collaborations, this one includes African American partners. In this case it's Blackburn Architects and Harry Robinson, former dean of the Howard University architecture school. Foster designed the Kogod Courtyard at the Smithsonian's Reynolds Center for American Art and Portraiture.

-- Moody Nolan, in association with Antoine Predock Architect, envisions a building made of natural materials, rising as of out of bedrock and muck. Along one side runs a wetlands scene, a nod to historic Tiber Creek that ran through part of Washington. Its glass roof features etchings echoing Yoruba ancestral arts, and it also has an outdoor amphitheater facing Constitution Avenue.

-- Moshe Safdie and Associates in association with Sulton Campbell Britt & Associates submitted a four-story concept that features a lot of natural light. A towering ship's hull marks the entrance. In a section labeled "The Door of No Return," the museum would have exhibition and contemplative areas dealing with slavery and segregation stories; a section called "Freedom Bridge," on the top level, would include exhibits on music and sports. The proposal features a web-like facade, behind which is a series of pedestrian walkways.

An 11-member jury will make its selection next month, but Bunch stressed this would be an independent decision arrived at without public comment. Final approval would come from the Smithsonian Board of Regents.

The 350,000 square foot, $500 million project is being funded 50-50 by private and congress.

Image obtained from:
Details obtained from: Jaqueline Trescott's "Black History Future"


spp said...

The Moody Nolan/Predock design is the best of the lot. Whereas all the other entries try to conform to the norm, this design stands out in its imaginative use of the context and its ability to tell a powerful story in a contemporary architectural language. The creative use of materials and the amorphous yet poetic form of the building will be a great addition to the Mall.

ArchSourcer said...

I agree. Thanks for the comment

Adriana said...

This is a very interesting group of submission and I have studied each very intensely but one rises above all. Moody Nolan design is very organic and at one with the environment. I loved the mural on the outside and the grassy roof. Unlike some of the other designs, there is lots of glass but it is not very apparent. The glass brings in light, brings the outside in and breaks up the concrete. It is by far the most artistic. If this competition is about design that incorporates the contemporary but more importantly reflects the nature and history of the African American culture as well as it’s relationship to nature, then Moody Nolan is head and shoulders above the rest.