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Designed In N.C./Built in D.C. – National Museum of African American History & Culture

The Dedication and Grand Opening will take place on September 24; opening celebration will include extended visiting hours and a three-day music festival

WASHINGTON, DC – The National Museum of African American History and Culture (NMAAHC) is the only national museum devoted exclusively to the documentation of African American life, history, and culture. It was established by Act of Congress in 2003, following decades of efforts to promote and highlight the contributions of African Americans.

To date, the museum has collected more than 36,000 artifacts. Nearly 100,000 individuals have become charter members of the museum. When the NMAAHC opens on September 24, 2016, it will be the 19th and newest museum of the Smithsonian Institution.

There are four pillars upon which the NMAAHC stands:

  1. It provides an opportunity for those who are interested in African American culture to explore and revel in this history through interactive exhibitions;
  2. It helps all Americans see how their stories, their histories, and their cultures are shaped and informed by global influences;
  3. It explores what it means to be an American and share how American values like resiliency, optimism, and spirituality are reflected in African American history and culture; and
  4. It serves as a place of collaboration that reaches beyond Washington to engage new audiences and to collaborate with the myriad of museums and educational institutions that have explored and preserved this important history well before this museum was created.

The NMAAHC is a public institution open to all, where anyone is welcome to participate, collaborate, and learn more about African American history and culture. In the words of Lonnie G. Bunch III, founding director of the NMAAHC, “there are few things as powerful and as important as a people, as a nation that is steeped in its history.”

The NMAAHC building is African American history and culture clear and obvious on the National Mall of the United States. Its location and its design represent the past, present, and future of the African American experience in ways that are both tangible and symbolic.

Looking north from the building, visitors can see the White House, which made history in 2008 with the election of President Barack Obama. Rising to the east beyond the National Mall and other Smithsonian museums is the U.S. Capitol, seat of the nation’s legislature. And to the south and west are monuments and memorials to Thomas Jefferson, Martin Luther King Jr., Abraham Lincoln, and George Washington, whose contributions to African American history and culture are told in the museum.

The NMAAHC’s highly symbolic presence on the National Mall is matched by the symbolism of the building itself. Lead designer David Adjaye and lead architect Philip Freelon, together with their architectural team Freelon Adjaye Bond/SmithGroup, won the international competition in April 2009 to design and deliver the museum to the people of the United States. Groundbreaking on the five-acre site took place in February 2012, with the museum’s opening day scheduled for September 24, 2016.

The son of a Ghanaian diplomat, Adjaye grew up as a citizen of the world; he has lived in Egypt, England, Lebanon, and Tanzania; and has visited all 54 independent nations of Africa. Freelon is the leading designer for African American museums today. And before his death in February 2009, J. Max Bond Jr. designed African American historic sites, museum, and archives around the world. As a result, the architects have synthesized a variety of distinctive elements from Africa and the Americas into the building’s design and structure.

July 2015 Progress
July 2015 Progress

From one perspective, the building’s architecture follows classical Greco-Roman form in its use of a base and shaft, topped by a capital or corona. In this case, the corona is inspired by the three-tiered crowns used in Yoruban art from West Africa. Moreover, the building’s main entrance is a welcoming porch, which has architectural roots in Africa and throughout the African Diaspora, especially the American South and Caribbean. Finally, by wrapping the entire building in an ornamental bronze-colored metal lattice, Adjaye the architects pays  homage to the intricate ironwork that was crafted by enslaved African Americans in Louisiana, South Carolina, and elsewhere.

Significantly, the enveloping lattice also opens the building to exterior daylight, which can be modulated according to the season. In one sense, this is architecturally practical and sustainable—and will help the building become the first Smithsonian museum to achieve LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) Gold certification. But the openness to light is also symbolic for a museum that seeks to stimulate open dialogues about race and to help promote reconciliation and healing. From the topmost corona, the view reaches ever upward, helping to remind visitors that the museum is an inspirational open to all as a place of meaning, memory, reflection, laughter, and hope.

Many of the world’s great buildings have integrated their architectural form with their function or purpose. The NMAAHC follows this principle in the sense that the building (as a “container”) embraces its content—which is the American story told through the lens of African American history and culture. Fulfilling a decades-long dream, the NMAAHC building is a community resource that helps visitors learn about themselves, their histories, and their common cultures. The light reflected from the bronze-colored lattice will serve as a beacon that reminds us of what we were, what challenges we still face, and what we may hope to become. As Lonnie G. Bunch III, founding director of the NMAAHC, has described it, “This building will sing for all of us.”

The historic significance of the National Museum of African American History and Culture (NMAAHC) opening – and its importance to all Americans – will make it an unprecedented local, national and international event unlike any other opening of a cultural institution in America or globally in recent memory.

Founded in 1846, the Smithsonian Institution is the world’s largest museum and research complex. The National Museum of African American History and Culture is the 19th and newest museum of the Smithsonian

Nov. 2015 Progress
Nov. 2015 Progress


Freedom Sounds: A Community Celebration

Washington Monument Grounds
Friday, September 23, 2016, 12:00pm – 5:00pm
Saturday, September 24, 2016, 12:00pm – 5:00pm and 6:00pm – 9:00pm
Sunday, September 25, 2016, 12:00pm – 5:00pm and 6:00pm – 9:00pm

Beginning Friday, September 23, 2016, on the Washington Monument grounds, the National Museum of African American History and Culture presents Freedom Sounds: A Community Celebration. Conceived and presented in festival fashion, Freedom Sounds programming will include musical performances, spoken word, oral history activities and evening concerts. A drum circle, storytelling, and interactive workshops provide opportunities for families and large groups of the

public to explore and celebrate the museum’s rich content and stories.

This festival presents artists who represent the numerous cultural threads encompassing our shared African diasporic histories and traditions. Two tented stages will offer local, national and international performers, contributing to NMAAHC’s Grand Opening Weekend. The Freedom Sounds festival continues on Saturday and closes the Grand Opening Weekend on Sunday evening, September 25, 2016. Designed to accommodate the crowds anticipated; this three-day event is free and open to the public.

Dedication Ceremony

National Museum of African American History and Culture Saturday, September 24, 2016,
8:00 am Gathering and Musical Prelude
10:00am Dedication Ceremony Begins
1:00pm Museum Opens to the Public

On Saturday, September 24, 2016, the public witnesses the outdoor Dedication Ceremony of the National Museum of African American History and Culture. In the afternoon, the museum officially opens to the public. Tickets are not required for the public to view the outdoor Dedication Ceremony. Extensive large-screen viewing areas are well-positioned for crowds during the Dedication Ceremony.

Museum Opens to the Public

National Museum of African American History and Culture Saturday, September 24, 2016, 1:00pm – 6:00pm
Sunday, September 25, 2016, 10:00am – 10:00pm

The Museum officially opens to the public immediately following the Dedication Ceremony on Saturday, September 24, 2016. The museum keeps its doors open for extended hours Sunday, September 25, from 10 am to 10pm.

Oct. 2013 Progress
Oct. 2013 Progress

Project History

The story of the design team behind the National Museum of African American History and Culture (NMAAHC) began shortly after the selection of the museum’s future site on the National Mall. In 2007, the Smithsonian selected Freelon Bond, a collaboration between prominent African American architects Phil Freelon of The Freelon Group and Max Bond of Davis Brody Bond, to lead the museum’s Phase 1 planning work. The Freelon Bond team delivered the 1200-page programming and pre-design document that became the basis for the design of the museum.

Following the successful completion of Phase I in 2008, the Museum Council sponsored an international design competition. Lonnie G. Bunch III, the Museum’s founding director, headed the competition selection committee. This nine-member group included notables in the design community such as Linda Johnson Rice, co-chair of the Museum Council and Chairman of Johnson Publishing Company Inc., Robert Kogod, member of the Smithsonian Board of Regents and president of Charles E. Smith Management LLC, Robert Campbell, architecture critic of the Boston Globe, and Adelle Santos, Dean of the MIT School of Architecture+Planning.

At that time, London-based architect Adjaye Associates (led by David Adjaye) and Washington D.C. based SmithGroup (led by Hal Davis) joined Freelon Bond.* The resulting design team, Freelon Adjaye Bond/SmithGroup (FAB/S), was one of six finalists selected to present design proposals to the Smithsonian, ultimately winning the design competition in April of 2009.

*Following the death of Max Bond in 2009, Davis Brody Bond was led by Peter Cook and Rob Anderson

phil freelonPhil Freelon, FAIA
Lead Architect

Known for imaginative design and thoughtful collaboration, Phil Freelon practices architecture that engages the community and advances the social fabric. Before merging with Will+Perkins, he led the Freelon Adjaye Bond/SmithGroup team of architects working with The Smithsonian Institution on the design of the National Museum of African American History and Culture.

Founder of The Freelon Group, Phil’s design achievements include cultural, civic and academic buildings produced for some of America’s most respected institutions. He is the design architect for the National Center for Civil and Human Rights in Atlanta, the Museum of the African Diaspora in San Francisco, the Harvey B. Gantt Center in Charlotte, Emancipation Park in Houston, and the Reginald F. Lewis Museum in Baltimore.

In 2014, Phil and his firm joined global architecture and design firm Perkins+Will. Phil is Managing Director and Design Director of the Perkins+Will North Carolina Practice in Research Triangle Park (RTP) and Charlotte, and a leader in the firm’s internationally-acclaimed Civic + Cultural Practice.

Phil is a recipient of the Thomas Jefferson Award for Public Architecture, a presidential appointee to the U.S. Commission of Fine Arts, a Fellow of the American Institute of Architects (FAIA) and a faculty member at MIT’s School of Architecture + Planning. He is a recipient of the AIA North Carolina’s Gold Medal, the association’s highest individual honor.

A native of Philadelphia, PA, Phil earned his Bachelor of Environmental Design degree in Architecture from North Carolina State University and his Master of Architecture degree from MIT.  Phil also received a Loeb Fellowship and spent a year of independent study at the Harvard University Graduate School of Design.  He has served as an adjunct faculty member at North Carolina State University’s College of Design and has lectured at Harvard, MIT, the University of Maryland, Syracuse University, Auburn University, the University of Utah, the University of California – Berkeley, Kent State University and the New Jersey Institute of Technology, among others.


zena howardZena Howard, AIA
Managing Principal

Zena Howard has over 20 years of experience as an architect and project leader with a career focused on private and public institutions, museums, cultural facilities, libraries, and higher education facilities.  Zena has led many significant and award-winning projects around the country.

More specifically, her experience includes diverse buildings and clients with specialized and/or unique design goals such as environmentally sensitive exhibit areas, historically and culturally significant buildings and locations, and resilient and sustainable design in pursuit of LEED certification and other high performance building goals.  Her deep experience coupled with her strong, authentic communication ability and style have allowed her to effectively lead large, complex, or otherwise challenging projects to successful completion.

Zena is the Senior Project Manager for the Smithsonian Institution’s new National Museum of African American History and Culture.  As project leader for the past six years, she is the point person executing Smithsonian’s multiple decades of planning and investment in this important national museum.

Zena has led the team of 4 architectural firms and 29 consultants from pre-design, through design, construction documentation and fast-track construction.  Her role includes coordinating and interfacing directly with stakeholder and regulatory agencies and commissions, the multi-headed owner and user groups, the exhibit design team, the Construction Manager, and the exhibit fabricator.

Zena joined The Freelon Group in 2003, advancing to the level of Principal and Owner by 2012.  In 2014, The Freelon Group joined forces with the global architecture and design firm Perkins+Will where she continues her leadership as a Principal with the North Carolina practice and as a member of the firm’s global Diversity + Inclusion Council.

Zena is a native of North Carolina and earned her undergraduate degree in Architecture from the University of Virginia.  She currently serves on the North Carolina State University School of Architecture Advisory Board and the University of Virginia Alumni Association Board of Managers.  She has lectured at multiple institutions and is a frequent design reviewer or competition juror at leading universities and institutions around the U.S.  Zena is a LEED Accredited Design Professional and a member of the American Institute of Architects, the National Organization of Minority Architects, and the Association of African American Museums.

Project Design Facts:

  • The design and construction of the 400,000 square foot museum is one of the largest and most complex building projects underway in the country, in large part because of the challenges of constructing 60% of the structure below ground within the DC tidal basin.
  • This will be the most sustainable national museum ever built, on track to achieve a LEED Gold certification from the U.S. Green Building Council. Sustainability design includes ground source heat pumps, rainwater harvesting, extensive daylighting and thermal zones within the building
  • The corona, the museum’s distinctive form, draws on familiar imagery from both African and American history. The three-tiered shape is inspired by the Yoruban Caryatid, a traditional wooden column which features a crown or corona at its top.
  • The bronze-colored corona panels draw inspiration from the ornate ironwork found in Charleston, Savannah and New Orleans. The design team studied this historic iron lattice work, in many cases created by enslaved Africans, and created the light-permeable façade of the museum by digitizing the traditional shapes and transposing them into a modern interpretation, scalable to the size and shape of the building.
  • Inside the building, the corona forms a perimeter zone that surrounds the primary galleries. Abundant daylight enters this zone through the patterned openings in the corona and through skylights. At night, the corona will glow from within, presenting stunning views of the museum from a variety of vantage points in and around the National Mall. The building form and materials are intended to express strength, faith, hope and resilience.
  • Smithsonian curators have located and stored more than 33,000 artifacts for the exhibits. The museum will showcase both the historic milestones of African American history and the everyday achievements of individuals who have contributed to shaping American culture.



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Phyllis Coley
Phyllis D. Coley is CEO/Publisher of Spectacular Magazine and Host of Spectacular Magazine Radio Show. With a B.A. in English from NCCU, the Durham native began her professional career as Promotions/Marketing Director for New York City’s WKTU-FM. While at the radio station, Coley discovered the rap group Kid ‘n Play and managed them for five years, guiding their music and movie careers to success. Moving back to Durham, Coley produced a nationally syndicated television show, The Electric Factory, while working as News Director for FOXY 107/104. In April 2002, recognizing a void in highlighting the achievements of African Americans, she started her own business publishing ACE Magazine. Coley launched Spectacular Magazine in November 2004. Recognizing the lack of pertinent and truthful information, Coley began Spectacular Magazine Radio Show in March 2009. Coley is the organizer of Durham's Annual MLK/Black History Month Parade and the Annual North Carolina Juneteenth Celebration. She currently serves on Central Children’s Home Board of Directors, Raleigh Chamber of Commerce’s Board of Advisors, as Immediate Past Secretary of the Durham Rotary Club Board of Directors and is one of the founding members of the Triangle United Way’s African American Leadership Initiative.

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