African American History museum gets design approval, 2015 opening

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Photo - The construction site of the new National Museum of African American History and Culture (Graeme Jennings/Examiner)
The construction site of the new National Museum of African American History and Culture (Graeme Jennings/Examiner)
Local,DC,Abby Hamblin

The $500 million National Museum of African American History and Culture got its final site and building design approval on Thursday, putting the project on track for a 2015 opening.

"I think we're just excited about seeing the project finally get constructed," said Ken Walton, an architect for the National Capital Planning Commission, which OK'd the plans at an afternoon meeting. "This is the first major new building on the [National] Mall since the Native American museum, so this is a significant building."

Half of the financing for the mammoth, crown-inspired building comes from federal tax dollars via Congress, and the Smithsonian Institution will raise the other half. A representative of the museum said the Smithsonian has already raised about $100 million for the project.

At a glance
What: Smithsonian Institution's National Museum of African American History and Culture
Where: National Mall, southeast corner of 15th Street and Constitution Avenue NW
When: Created in 2003 by an act of Congress; completion in 2015
Cost: $500 million

Construction began on Feb. 22 when President Obama, first lady Michelle Obama, former first lady Laura Bush and other museum officials first broke ground at the chosen site on the National Mall, on Constitution Avenue between 14th and 15th streets NW. Since then, excavation has begun at the location and the approval of the designs will allow for more construction to move forward.

"We're planning to pour the first concrete for the foundations between the first and 15th of December," said Charles Yetter, senior project manager for the Smithsonian.

Architect David Adjaye, working with the Freelon Group, Davis Brody Bond, and the SmithGroupJJR, leads the design team for the building.

Down to the very color of the flowers, the plans for the site reflect a mission to reflect "the breadth and depth of the experience of individuals of African descent living in the United States," according the National Capital Planning Commission. This includes three groves of trees that will be planted to represent three ideas: spirituality, hope and optimism, and resilience.

A 2003 report by museum organizers said the project's goal is to "provide a national meeting place for all Americans to learn about the history and culture of African Americans; establish an institution that can respond to the interests and needs of divers racial constituencies; and build a national venue that can serve as an educational healing place to further racial reconciliation."

There are still a few finishing touches left to be decided, but the 401,447-square-foot-building appears to be on track for its 2015 completion date.

"We're ready to get out of the ground beyond the dirt and mud to get the building up," Yetter said.

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