As a new member of the ensemble of stately buildings framing the Mall, the NMAAHC must fit the culture it represents, defined by non-conformity, thriving on the interpretive, the dynamic, and the improvisational. The building should embrace and attempt to reconcile these paradoxes and the double consciousness historically characteristic of African American culture.
The public is drawn from the National Mall or Constitution Avenue through gardens along sinuous paths that converge into a large public glass artery. The glass outer skin envelops exuberant, soaring public spaces that visually extend into the surrounding site. The transparent outer skin is comprised of a tensile cable system emanating from limestone panel joints. Limestone, the traditional material of Mall architecture, is translated from the heavy, rigid, and opaque slabs of neighboring buildings into a soft, pliable material sculpted by computerized fabrication processes to express a more democratic and contemporary sensibility. The stone volume of the NMAAHC aligns with the rigid urban cornices and corners of neighboring buildings yet softly recedes from its upper edges as it descends. The limestone volume appears to resist gravity, producing the image of a stone cloud.
The NMAAHC program is organized in concentric layers. Within, the limestone shell contains the ramped History sequence. History wraps around the Culture Core. Within the Culture Core is a void, a vortex of space for solemn reflection at the heart of the African American experience.