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The primary architectural idea for the museum was derived from the classical tripartite column with its base, shaft and capital. In Yoruban art and architecture, the column or wooden post was usually crafted with a capital resembling a crown. This crown or corona form is the central idea which has driven the design of the museum. The bronze corona also reflects an African American presence that is a permanent part of the American landscape.
Reaching toward the sky, the bronze clad corona expresses faith, hope and resiliency. Internal to the building, the corona forms a perimeter zone which surrounds the primary galleries. Daylight enters this zone through patterned openings in the bronze cladding and through skylights—washing wood-covered walls with light while providing views upward and outward. At night, the corona glows, presenting stunning views of the museum from a variety of vantage points in and around the Mall. The corona sits on a monumental plinth, or base, clad in stone.
Below the plinth, the museum threshold experience begins with a grand "porch" at the South (National Mall) entry point.
As visitors move through the exhibitions, important points in the city are highlighted by a series of openings which frame specific views. These openings or "lenses" offer respite and pause at selected moments along the exhibition experience. These framed perspectives are a reminder that the Museum presents a view of America through the lens of African American history and culture.
While the specific stories of persecution and struggle, resiliency and triumph are presented in the museum's exhibitions, the building itself stands as a powerful testament to the centrality and relevance of African American culture and history.
Language and images courtesy of Freelon Adjaye Bond/Smithgroup.