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The opening of the Smithsonian's $540 million, 400,000 sq. ft. National Museum of African American History and Culture on the National Mall "....was born out of a century of fitful and frustrated efforts to commemorate African American history in the nation's capital," said Lonnie Bunch, founding director of the museum. The building exterior has 3,600 bronze-colored cast-aluminum 'Corona' panels. Photo: SmithGroupJJR

National Museum of African American History and Culture Debut

An African American museum on the D.C. Mall began as an aspiring endeavor in 2003 with a handful of staff. There were no artifacts, no site and no architects.

Those aspirations have now been fulfilled. The museum staff has grown to 200, and has raised $315 million from private donors. The museum is now a reality, sitting at the corner of Constitution Avenue and 14th Street, across from the Washington Monument. It's called the Smithsonian's National Museum of African American History and Culture (NMAAHC). It opened to the public on Saturday, Sept. 24, following a 10 a.m. dedication ceremony with President Obama and other dignitaries on the outdoor stage that faces the Washington Monument grounds.

The museum has 3,000 artifacts ranging from the 1800s to modern times: a Dec. 23, 1835 bill of sale for a 16-year old slave girl; wrought iron ankle shackles (circa 1863) for ship crossings; an entire, albeit small, early 19th century South Carolina plantation cabin; Nat Turner's bible (1830s); a segregation-era Southern railway car; a brass trumpet crafted by Henri Selmer for Louis Armstrong (1946); Chuck Berry's Cadillac (1973); and Muhammad Ali's headgear from the Fifth Street Gym (1960s).

The museum's 12 inaugural exhibitions are grouped around three main themes: history, community and culture, and include an exhibit about the museum's evolution called "A Century in the Making." The 400,000 square-foot museum houses an education and technology center on the second floor, the Sweet Home Cafe, a museum store, the Oprah Winfrey Theater, a welcome center and orientation theater, and a contemplative court.

"If we've done our job right, I trust the museum will be place for all Americans to ponder, reflect, learn, rejoice, collaborate and, ultimately, draw sustenance and inspiration from the lessons of history to make America better," said Lonnie Bunch, founding director of the museum.

The National Museum of African American History and Culture Team

The Freelon Group: Architect of record; managed 32 consultants.

Note: The Freelon Group joined global architecture and design firm Perkins+Will in 2014.

Architect David Adjaye (Adjaye Associates): lead the building design, and worked in conjunction with the other three architectural partners.

Davis Brody Bond: developed the below-grade areas of the museum, which comprise 60 percent of the building. SmithGroupJJR: Developed and coordinated the design and construction of the entire building enclosure, exterior construction documentation, below grade retaining wall, the 'Corona' panels and lead the onsite construction phase services.

Gustafson Guthrie Nichol, Seattle: landscape architecture firm.

Ralph Appelbaum Associates: designed the 82,000 sq. ft. of the museum's inaugural exhibitions--12 galleries that span 400 years of history, community and culture.

As seen in LASN magazine, October 2016.

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July 22, 2019, 10:15 am PDT

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