An African-born architect whose practice is primarily based in London will be the lead designer of the Smithsonian’s African-American Museum of History and Culture. The Freelon Adjaye Bond and SmithGroup team were selected by the Smithsonian’s jury April 14. David Adjaye, Hon. FAIA, will be the lead designer and Philip Freelon’s, FAIA, firm will be the architect of record. Max Bond, FAIA, of the New York-based firm Davis Brody Bond died in February.
With this decision, the jury chose a middle path between the 21st century curves and challenging material expressions of Diller Scofidio + Renfro and KlingStubbin’s proposal, and the conservative, contextual approach of Pei Cobb Freed and Partners and Devrouax and Purnell’s plan. But this is a museum that’s going to assert itself on its premier site next door to the Washington Monument like no other Smithsonian. Its perforated bronze corona façade, which will emit light into the interior and will change hues as the sunlight shifts across the horizon, is a new direction in the dialogue of transparency and opaqueness on the Mall. Its crown-tired massing and geometric configuration is respectful of Washington’s symmetrical, Neo-Classical traditions without blithely acquiescing to them. But we can’t get too attached to anything just yet. Today, the design is something of a conceptual exploration, and it’ll be refined over the next three years before construction begins in 2012.Lead designer, Adjaye (born in Tanzania to Ghanaian parents) is black but not African American. His participation may or may not assuage those who wanted the winning designer to reflect the culture and history of the people whose stories will be featured in the museum. But Adjaye is according to R. Steven Lewis, AIA, president of the National Organization of Minority Architects, becoming a "household name." His talent will be culturally complemented by his partners.