Shifting the Landscape: Black Architects and Planners, 1968 to Now


The Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture presents Shifting the Landscape: Black Architects and Planners, 1968 to Now, a symposium focused on the activism, engagement, and impact of black architects and planners over the past fifty years.

September 27-29, 2018

The symposium will bring together architects, planners, and scholars of the built environment. Participants reflect on key events in the late 1960s that shaped architecture and planning in the decades that followed.

The symposium will also bring greater visibility to black architects of today, and highlight projects of architects and planners currently working to create more equitable spaces, all while connecting architecture professionals with scholars to make career opportunities more attractive for future practitioners.

Architect J. Max Bond, Jr. served as executive director of Architects’ Renewal Committee of Harlem (ARCH). In 1968, ARCH produced this community-oriented design for the 125th Street East Harlem Triangle Plan. Drawing by E. Donald Van Purnell. Courtesy of Arthur Symes.

Why 1968?

In June 1968, Whitney M. Young Jr., Executive Director of the National Urban League, delivered a landmark address to the American Institute of Architects (AIA). He called for more diversity in the profession and challenged architects to act on critical issues facing urban communities. Following Young’s speech, new funding initiatives opened doors for minority students to pursue architecture and planning degrees in greater numbers. Also during this era, architect J. Max Bond Jr. mentored several students and shaped their commitments to social justice and community needs.

Join us as we reflect on past achievements, expose current challenges, and share aspirations for the future.

Registration has reached capacity.

Walk-ins will be accepted as space allows.


Thursday, Sept 27, 4:00pm - 8:30pm, National Museum of African American History and Culture

  • Activism in Architecture and Planning: 1968 in Review
  • Reception

Friday, Sept 28, 8:45am - 7:30pm, National Museum of African American History and Culture

  • Keynote Presentatio​n
  • Building a Legacy
  • Designing for the Culture
  • Planning for Justice
  • Reception

Saturday, Sept 29, 2:00pm - 4:00pm, National Museum of African Art

  • Shifting the Lens: Diaspora Perspectives on Architecture and Design

Event Locations

National Museum of African American History and Culture, 1400 Constitution Ave, NW, Washington, DC 20560

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National Museum of African Art, 950 Independence Ave, SW, Washington, DC 20560


Sharon Egretta Sutton will deliver the Keynote Presentation.

Additional speakers include: 

  • Carla Jackson Bell
  • Richard Dozier
  • Michael Ford
  •  Toni L. Griffin
  • Zena Howard
  • Malo Hutson
  • Olalekan Jeyifous
  • Melvin L. Mitchell
  • Curtis Moody
  • Renee Kemp-Rotan
  •  Sara Zewde 

Full speaker list will be announced in late August!


About the NMAAHC Building Design

The Museum building is African American history and culture writ large on the National Mall of the United States. Its location and its design represent the past, present, and future of the African American experience in ways tangible and symbolic. 

The Museum's symbolic presence on the National Mall is matched by the symbolism of the building itself. Lead designer David Adjaye and lead architect Philip Freelon, together with their architectural team Freelon Adjaye Bond/SmithGroup, won an international competition in April 2009 to design and deliver the museum to the people of the United States. Groundbreaking on the five-acre site took place in February 2012, with the Museum’s grand opening celebrated on September 24, 2016.

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The Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture, designed by David Adjaye. Courtesy of Adjaye Associates.

From one perspective, the building’s architecture follows classical Greco-Roman form in its use of a base and shaft, topped by a capital or corona. For our Museum, the corona is inspired by the three-tiered crowns used in Yoruban art from West Africa. Moreover, the building’s main entrance is a welcoming porch, which has architectural roots in Africa and throughout the African Diaspora, especially the American South and Caribbean. Finally, by wrapping the entire building in an ornamental bronze-colored metal lattice, Adjaye pays  homage to the intricate ironwork crafted by enslaved African Americans in Louisiana, South Carolina, and elsewhere. 

The enveloping lattice also opens the building to exterior daylight, which can be modulated according to the season. The openness to light is symbolic for a museum that seeks to stimulate open dialogue about race and help promote reconciliation and healing. From the topmost corona, the view reaches ever upward, reminding visitors the Museum is an inspiration, open to all as a place of meaning, memory, reflection, laughter, and hope. This design is also architecturally practical and sustainable.

This building is the first museum on the National Mall designed to sustainability standards, serving as the Smithsonian’s 'Green Flag,' receiving LEED Gold Certification in 2018.

Social Media Toolkit

Tag @nmaahc and use #ShiftingLandscapes to share your live updates from the symposium!


You are invited to join us virtually via livestream!



Explore Our Collection

Discover photographs, objects, and more from our architecture and design collection.

  • Business card for architect Norma Merrick Sklarek, F.A.I.A.
  • Corona panel designed for NMAAHC (Type A: 65% opacity)
  • Program from the NOMA Second Annual Conference
  • Photograph of South Central Los Angeles Center designed by Harold Williams
  • Brochure announcing the partnership Freelon/Bond Architects
  • Blueprint by Terry Boddie

Shifting the Landscape is supported by the Ford Foundation and the American Institute of Architects.