National Museum of African American History and Culture

Building to present ethnic or national culture is always hard. If there’s a developed architectural style in that culture, it is usually an architecture functionally not fit for the institutions of culture, and the adaptations of existing demand great patience and skill. If there isn’t, a search for the appropriate reference that can be translated into the language of architecture can present another level of challenge.

For the architects of the newest addition to the Smithsonian museum family there was yet another challenge, they were building a heritage museum for the group whose position had been sensitive for a long period. Moreover, the building is located in the most prestigious place for such an institution.

What they delivered was a simple, tender, visually provocative but not imposing architecture. Clad in bronze perforated plates acting as sunshades, the museum takes form of an inverted stepped pyramid. The angle of the pyramid is taking the angle complementary to the adjacent Washington monument top pyramid, paying a sophisticated respect to its location. The vernacular, geometric, ornamental patterns mimic the art of the African American communities, and the porous structure of the sunshades and the glass behind it dematerializes the actual size of the building making it almost ephemeral.

Glistening as the rays of sun reflect the bronze plates, it changes color with weather and angle of perception, invoking the quest for the hidden symbolism, becoming a monument itself.

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