Friday, September 16, 2016

Architecture: A Unique History of a People Reflected in a Building

The unveiling of the newest Smithsonian museum will be celebrated this week with a series of events including a ribbon cutting by President Barka Obama. 
The building rises — bronze and "brooding," in the words of architect David Adjaye — floating in a sea of white marble and limestone on the sprawling National Mall in Washington, D.C.
The mission of the National Museum of African American History and Culture — set to open to the public next week after a 100-year journey into existence — is to tell the story of America through the lens of black history and culture.
That mission is reflected in the exhibits and encapsulated in a Langston Hughes quote featured inside the museum: "I, too, am America."
It's also reflected in the location and design of the building itself.
The decision to eschew the light-colored materials of the other "palaces of culture" on the Mall is one element of this narrative — and it also matched the philosophy of Lonnie Bunch III, the museum's founding director.

"He really embraced and really loved this idea of a dark presence on the Mall," Adjaye recalled. "In a way, the museum for him is about the way in which the African-American community is absolutely integral to understanding the American identity but somehow has been always in the back room. So this is a kind of coming to the front, sitting on the front lawn, with all the other monuments."
The museum doesn't try to hide or blend into the classical forms and perpendicular lines that surround it. It wears with pride an exterior that celebrates both Africa and America.
Take its striking silhouette — a triple inverted pyramid form, each tier angled up and out. The shape mimics that of the crowns atop the figures of the caryatids, or carved pillars, of the Yoruba, an African people with origins in Benin and Nigeria. It's an easily recognizable form from African art — akin to a Corinthian column in Western art — that denotes "very sacred, special and commemorative spaces."
"It is really a way of trying to speak to the narrative of where the African-American community originates from," Adjaye says.

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