David Adjaye To Design the African-American History Museum

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National Museum of African-American History and Culture, (proposal), Freelon Adjaye Bond Smith Group /photo: John Barrat — Smithsonian Institution

National Museum of African-American History and Culture, (proposal), Freelon Adjaye Bond Smith Group /photo; John Barrat — Smithsonian Institution

The Smithsonian Institution has just announced its choice of architects to design the National Museum of African-American History and Culture, the Smithsonian branch that’s scheduled to open in 2015 on a site on the National Mall in Washington, D.C. The winner of a six-firm competition is a team led by David Adjaye, the Tanzanian-born, London-based architect of the Denver Museum of Contemporary Art. Six years ago, when he was a relative newcomer with some interesting projects on his resume, I headed over to London to profile him for Time.

Some very prominent firms were in the final six for this competition, including Norman Foster, Moshe Safdie and Pei, Cobb, Freed. Last week Phil Kennicott of the Washington Post wrote a piece passionately advocating the design by Diller, Scofidio + Renfro, the firm responsible for the Boston Institute of Contemporary Art, the refashioned Alice Tully Hall at Lincoln Center in New York and the upcoming High Line Park that’s been constucted in an elevated railway bed in lower Manhattan. “Sedately horizontal” was his description of the Adjaye entry, and perhaps “too serene”. But that’s always been how they like ‘em in D.C.

Based on images that the Smithsonian made available in recent weeks I was also inclined towards the D, S+R entry. But I wasn’t able to get down to Washington during the week that the Smithsonian did a public display of models for the six proposals, so I’ll reserve judgment on this one.

Certainly Adjaye has ample experience of the African side of the African-American experience.
His father was a Ghanaian diplomat and he grew up in several parts of the continent. Those inverted pyramid shapes on top of his museum proposal are derived from African forms. When I met David in 2003 he was even planning to build himself a vacation home in Ghana, partly out of mud. (He loves unconventional materials.) I don’t know if that project ever got off the ground, so to speak.

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