National Museum of African American History and Culture - a political and cultural milestone | The Plan
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National Museum of African American History and Culture - a political and cultural milestone

Freelon Adjaye Bond / SmithGroup

Washington is formally a white city, in the sense that many of its great monuments - buildings and urban elements recognizable across the globe - are Eurocentric, bespoke white objects set amid the vast green expanse of the Mall and other public landscapes. This is the traditional view of the nation’s capital embraced by Hollywood and television, and encountered by throngs of tourists and school groups from across the United States. Washington is also of course a black city, a city with a populous African American community that even now, a century and a half after the abolition of slavery, is still in need of equity and respect. This is the lingering dichotomy of the US capital: visual aesthetics versus socioeconomic reality. The most recent addition to the Washington seen by tourists and by consumers of media sets out, if not to right this imbalance, to at least recalibrate the relative significance of monuments that collectively create Official Washington. With a somewhat ungainly name but with beautiful formal expression, the National Museum of African American History and Culture (NMAAHC) brings the African American experience to the nation’s ceremonial core. Designed by David Adjaye together with the Freelon Group and the late Max Bond of Davis Brody Bond, the NMAAHC is a sharp yet delicate newcomer to a frequently staid urban scene. It is brown and gorgeous and modern. The museum has found its home on the last available site along the Mall, that long lawn lined by John Russell Pope’s coolly neoclassical National Gallery of Art (1941), with its triangulated East Wing by I.M. Pei (1978), and the massive pavilion buildings of the Smithsonian Institution including Gordon Bunshaft’s circular Hirshhorn Museum (1974) and the adjacent National Museum of American History. A constituent museum of the Smithsonian, the NMAAHC is furthermore in proximity to such key historical sites as the Lincoln Memorial where the great black opera singer...

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