National Museum of African American History

National Museum of African American History

Cultural Centres and Museums
Washington, DC, USA - Build completed in 2016
BendheimBendheim’s Custom Glass Illuminates New Museum of African American History and Culture

story by Bendheim

Bendheim’s Custom Glass Illuminates New Museum of African American History and Culture
Bendheim’s Custom Glass Illuminates New Museum of African American History and Culture
Bendheim as Manufacturers
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Alan Karchmer/NMAAHC

National Museum of African American History

Adjaye Associates as Architects

One of the signature spaces is the museum is the Contemplative Court. The structure features a glass oculus that at once allows in natural light and offers a cascading waterfall, allowing for quiet reflection. The ceiling required a somber elegance, as well as gloss to reflect the delicate movement of the water, but natural materials were out of the question due to weight, UV degradation, and maintenance. The final finish, a mid-gloss blackened copper with green flecks, was additionally perforated to capture the differing light sources and allowing the participant to gaze upward in thought.


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Winning the competition to design the National Museum of African American History

and Culture has consolidated the practice’s US portfolio with arguably the nation’s most prestigious new building. Located on Constitution Avenue, adjacent to the National Museum of American History and the Washington Monument, the museum houses exhibit galleries, administrative spaces, theatre space and collections storage space for the NMAAHC. As Lead Designer for the Freelon Adjaye Bond/SmithGroup (FAB)* team, Sir David Adjaye’s approach has been to establish both a meaningful relationship to this unique site as well as a strong conceptual resonance with America’s deep and longstanding African heritage. The design rests on three cornerstones: the “corona” shape of the building; the extension

of the building out into the landscape – the porch; and the bronze filigree envelope. 


Situated on the Washington Monument grounds the museum maintains a subtle profile in the landscape – more than half is below ground – with five storeys above. The corona is based on elements of the Washington Monument, closely matching the 17-degree angle of the capstone and the panel size and pattern has been developed using the Monument stones as a reference. The entire building is wrapped in an ornamental bronze lattice that is a historical reference to African American craftsmanship. The density of the pattern can be modulated to control the amount of sunlight and transparency into the interior. The south entry is composed of the Porch and a central water feature. An extension of the building out into the landscape, the porch creates an outdoor room that bridges the gap between the interior and exterior.


At 50m (49’-2”) deep, the setback is similar to other buildings on the north side of the Mall. The underside of the porch roof is tilted upward allowing reflection of the moving water below. This covered area creates a microclimate where breezes combine with the cooling waters to generate a place of refuge from the hot summer sun. There is also an outdoor patio on the porch rooftop that is accessed from a mezzanine level within the building. 


Inside the building, visitors are guided on a historical and emotional journey, characterised by vast, column free spaces, a dramatic infusion of natural light and a diverse material palette comprising pre-cast concrete, timber and a glazed skin that sits within the bronze lattice. Below ground, the ambience is contemplative and monumental, achieved by the triple height history gallery and symbolised by the memorial space – the “oculus” – that brings light diffused by a cascade of water into the contemplative space from the Monument grounds. Moving upwards, the views become pivotal, as one circulates along the corona with unrivalled panoramas of the Mall, Federal Triangle buildings and Monument Grounds.


*Adjaye Associates was the Lead Designer of the National Museum of African American History and Culture. As such, the firm was responsible for developing the design concept, both interior and exterior, and for designing all major components of the building. Freelon Group served as architect of record while DavisBrodyBond and SmithGroupJRR were members of the architectural team, providing detailing support for the below grade and façade elements, respectively.

National Museum of African American History & Culture

Gustafson Guthrie Nichol Ltd as Architects

The landscape design for the National Museum of African American History and Culture situates the NMAAHC within the context of the Washington Monument Grounds as an object in a field, drawing the open, pastoral nature of the Washington Monument grounds through the Museum site. The design establishes the site as integral to the story of the museum with spaces that embody both a metaphorical and physical narrative. The experience of the site begins the narrative procession of the museum, with symbolic crossings over water through a landscape that is both continuous and sequential, layered around and through architectural spaces with the presence of water as a constant and dynamic companion throughout the journey.

Bendheim’s Custom Glass Illuminates New Museum of African American History and Culture

Bendheim as Manufacturers

The Contemplative Court, one of the key attractions at the new National Museum of African American History and Culture, features a one-of-a-kind, copper-bronze Bendheim architectural glass. Developed and produced exclusively for the museum, the metallic glass creates a sense of luminosity and warmth, contributing to the serenity and elegance of the space.


As the latest addition to the National Mall, the new museum pays homage to African American art, tradition, history, and culture. Defined by sweeping walls of custom Bendheim glass, the Contemplative Court serves as a space for pause and reflection, providing visitors an opportunity to process the weight of the museum’s contents.

Bendheim faced major challenges in the creation of a glass that needed to meet the highly sensitive needs of this museum. The glass had to display a subtle luminosity and a balance of opacity and translucency while providing sound control and safety.


Bendheim collaborated with lead architects at Adjaye Associates, lead designers for the museum, and Davis Brody Bond to conceptualize and produce the glass. The company’s design team created multiple glass types over the last three years, as the architectural concept evolved.


Through all the communications, and all the samples, a glass with a core of specialized bronze-metallic mesh brought the architects’ vision to light. The luminous bronze colored walls of semi-transparent glass separate museum gallery traffic from the Court, where visitors can quietly contemplate what they have viewed. The laminated glass offers enhanced safety and sound control. The resulting “quiet” aesthetic contributes to the design objective – to promote reconciliation and healing.

Smithsonian’s National Museum of African American

We-ef as Lighting

History in a new light

WE-EF illuminates the pathways around the new, fascinating National Museum of African American History and Culture in Washington.


The National Museum of African American History and Culture, which is also the nineteenth Smithsonian museum, is entirely dedicated to Afro-American life, culture and difficult history. The building houses a collection comprising more than 36,000 pieces on 37,000 square metres in a prominent location between the obelisk of the Washington Monument and the National Museum of American History at the National Mall.


Four architectural offices were involved in the construction. Under the leadership of the Freelon Group, a unique building was created that extends 30 metres underground with a striking "Corona" envelope above it. The facade, with each storey projecting diagonally upwards, consists of filigree, openwork and bronze-coloured coated metal elements that create an aura at night when light shines out through the lattice.


Light and landscape

The open space around the museum plays an important role; the planners from the participating SmithGroup say that this was to make it as accessible as possible. This principle is demonstrated by the paved paths that lead around the building,which is surrounded by lawns, and allow a leisurely approach.


The lighting concept for these pathways takes on various aspects. First, it is important to ensure the safety of visitors and pedestrians with precise illumination. At the same time, the light must not cause glare in any of the different lines of sight or detract from the impression of the architecture. From an aesthetic point of view, it is essential that the design of the luminaires, the surfaces and the poles harmonises with the architecture. Finally, the lighting concept must meet the highest efficiency requirements, in line with theLeadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED)Gold building certification.


Atmospheric pathway lighting

The installed WE-EF RFL540 LED street and area lighting luminaires meet precisely the above requirements. Fitted with CAD-optimised [S70] lenses made of PMMA, they produce an asymmetric, uniform light distribution, and direct the light to exactlywhere it is needed. An additional requirement of the lighting designers at FMS Fisher Marantz Stone was the colour rendering of the light source. The LEDs used have a colour temperature of 3000K, matched to the bronze shine of the façade and the warm colour of the paving stones.


A special stamp motif

Because the museum is of outstanding importance for the United States of America, it has now found its way onto a stamp. Since October 2017, the museum has served as a motif for a "Forever Stamp". Ever since 2007, the postal service has regularly issued such special postage stamps, which – as the name suggests – do not expire even when the price of postage increases, i.e., they can be used virtually "forever".


Metal cladding

Pure + FreeForm as custom metal panels

One of the signature spaces is the museum is the Contemplative Court. The structure features a glass oculus that at once allows in natural light and offers a cascading waterfall, allowing for quiet reflection. The ceiling required a somber elegance, as well as gloss to reflect the delicate movement of the water, but natural materials were out of the question due to weight, UV degradation, and maintenance. The final finish, a mid-gloss blackened copper with green flecks, was additionally perforated to capture the differing light sources and allowing the participant to gaze upward in thought.


More from the Manufacturer:


Pure + Freeform is an architectural metal design studio specializing in bespoke finishes and cladding products for exterior and interior applications.


Their custom metal panels bridge the gap between accessibility, beauty, and relevance.


Pure + FreeForm’s studio works closely with each project’s design team to produce site-specific finishes and systems for metal cladding applications. Through their custom metal cladding products, their vision is to create destinations recognized globally for their inspiring, contextual, purposeful designs.

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BendheimBendheimManufacturers
Pure + FreeFormPure + FreeFormcustom metal panels
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