If there is one new museum to see, it’s this one. The National Museum of African American History and Culture is by far the most impressive piece of architecture and culture in North America because it is the only national museum devoted exclusively to the documentation of African American life, history, and culture.
Designed in collaboration by Freelon Group, Adjaye Associates and Davis Brody Bond it’s unique shape is dubbed the “corona” the three-tiered, ornamental form enveloping the building derives from multiple sources. The trapezoidal, staked shape takes inspiration from the top portion of a sculpture by Olowe of Ise, an early 20th-century Yoruban craftsman. The upward angles of the Corona match the angle on the capstone atop the Washington Monument, a monument that adopts its own form from ancient Egyptian obelisks. For design ideas, the architects also studied images of people with arms uplifted toward the sky in gestures of praise and jubilation.
The collection consists of over 36,000 pieces. What is impressive is that the museum had to essentially start from scratch with the collection. And because of this expansive collection, you really need a full day to really experience the collection in its entirety. The lower level, very poetically, takes the visitor to the beginning of African society. In the dark, and narrow corridors you feel very claustrophobic. Also because of the success of the museum, there are a lot of people in this area. I feel that this is very deliberate by the designer. The feeling and the lack of space is an attempt for the viewer to feel like they are in the belly of a ship, not knowing where they are going and almost at the surrender of the content. It’s very powerful and overwhelming. It’s at this low and dark point that you begin your decent upwards to present day.
What I appreciate about the content is that it doesn’t shy away from the very gruesome history of black culture in America. The injustices happened only several decades ago. And we can’t deny that this is part of our joint history but it is a reminder that we have to make sure it isn’t repeated for the next generation.
The upper levels bring to life the dominance African American’s have had on pop culture and shaping it as we currently know it. What is really exciting about the collection is that people that I’ve looked up to, admired, witnessed greatest all have pieces in the collection. From Michael Jackson, to Beyonce. Michael Jordan to Little Richard. It is an amazing collection of fashion, music, and athletics imaginable. It’s like seeing a snapshot of history and it’s only a couple of feet away from you.
One beautiful piece of architecture is the contemplation court. From the exterior, you don’t know what this odd piece of structure is. But when you enter the building it’s a beautiful piece that exhibits the power that can come from the simplicity of water. It’s a cylindrical fountain that rains into a pool in the center of the room, coming from a skylight above. The water creates a sound that conveys something in the midst between a feeling of white noise, and calming relaxation. Some visitors come here and sing. Others sit quietly, staring into the constantly shifting liquid pool. It is a space for deep thoughts and meditation.
“America…needs citizens who love it enough to re-imagine and re-make it.” Cornel West