Works in Progress - Autumn 2013

Monumental Hardhat Zone

By Emily Ochoa | September 5, 2013
The future National Museum of African American History and Culture (Frelon Adjaye Bond/Smithgroup)
The future National Museum of African American History and Culture (Frelon Adjaye Bond/Smithgroup)


The west end of the National Mall is a construction site these days, with the Washington Monument covered in scaffolding for repair of damage to stones and mortar caused by the 5.8-magnitude earthquake of August 2011. Philanthropist David Rubenstein contributed $7.5 million to the National Park Service to fund restoration of the monument, roughly half of the estimated cost. Repairs are scheduled for completion next spring. Meanwhile, cranes are flying over the excavated site of the future National Museum of African American History and Culture.

Smithsonian Institution curators say they want “a place where all Americans can learn about the richness and diversity of the African American experience … and how it helped us shape this nation.” Planned exhibits include such artifacts as Nat Turner’s Bible and a dress sewn by Rosa Parks, Muhammad Ali’s training headgear and a hat worn by a railway sleeping-car porter, manacles that enchained slaves on the Middle Passage from Africa and photographs by Ernest C. Withers that document the civil rights movement and Negro league baseball.

Curators are soliciting more items; their wish list includes Black Panther berets, NAACP pamphlets from the 1940s, and signs asking for help in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. They also seek present-day objects that will help illuminate the Obama era for future audiences.

Construction began in February 2012, and completion is projected for 2015. David Adjaye, the project’s British-Tanzanian chief architect, says the building’s form was inspired by Yoruban motifs, a nod to the links between West African and black American cultures. Bronze latticework suggesting African-American crafts will wrap much of the building, and a linear marsh garden will allude to Tiber Creek, a tributary of the Potomac River that once flowed along the northern edge of the site.

A 350-seat theater in the museum will be named for Oprah Winfrey, who donated $12 million to the Smithsonian.

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