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6 teams compete to design black history museum

Brett Zongker
6 teams compete to design black history museum

WASHINGTON — Six design teams, all with prominent black principals, will compete for two months to design a national black history museum on the National Mall, the Smithsonian Institution announced last Thursday.

The National Museum of African American History and Culture will likely be the last new museum building added to the grounds between the Washington Monument and Capitol. The design finalists have created structures that include the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum, the Yad Vashem Holocaust Museum in Jerusalem, the Museum of the African Diaspora in San Francisco and an expanded Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts in New York.

Museum Director Lonnie Bunch, who will lead a jury to make the final selection, is looking for a design that “speaks about resiliency and optimism and spirituality,” he said.

In early April, the six design proposals will go on display at the Smithsonian Castle for the public to help choose a winner by April 10. It will be the first time the Smithsonian has sought public comment in a museum design competition, spokeswoman Linda St. Thomas said.

The museum did not require design teams to include black architects. But the groups had to show an appreciation of black history and culture. During the design phase, “they’ve got to embrace and wrestle with the African American experience,” Bunch said.

They also have to answer one practical question: “How do you build something right by the Washington Monument and the White House?” Bunch said.

The building, set to open in 2015, would be the closest museum to the towering marble obelisk and is to be the first museum on the Mall to be certified as environmentally friendly. Each design team will receive a $50,000 stipend for the competition.

Another prominent black history project in Washington has drawn scrutiny for its design. Organizers of the planned Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial have been criticized for selecting a Chinese sculptor to create the central King statue, though the primary architect for the project is an African American.

For the last museum built on the Mall, the National Museum of the American Indian, there was no design competition. The Smithsonian hired a Canadian architect with roots in the Blackfoot tribe in 1993, but fired him about five years later after a dispute with his U.S. partners over money. Smithsonian planners said they are trying to avoid such problems by hiring a collaborative group.

“This is a long-term relationship and national museums take a long time to develop,” said Sheryl Kolasinski, director of Smithsonian planning and project management. “We’re selecting an architectural team as much as a design.”

Congress has pledged to provide half of the museum’s $500 million cost, with private fundraising to cover the balance.

The finalists for the project are:

• Devrouax and Purnell Architects/Planners, P.C, and Pei Cobb Freed and Partners Architects, LLP

• Diller Scofidio + Renfro in association with KlingStubbins

• Foster + Partners/URS

• Freelon Adjaye Bond in association with SmithGroup

• Moody Nolan Inc. in association with Antoine Predock Architect PC

• Moshe Safdie and Associates Inc. in association with Sultan Campbell Britt and Associates

(Associated Press)