The new museum facility is designed to be a building worthy both of the museum’s vision – to embody the African American spirit – and its prominent place on the National Mall. 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. Reaching toward the sky, the bronze clad corona expresses faith, hope and resiliency.
The permanent historical exhibit will includes a Pullman train Car, a concrete guard tower from the Louisiana State Penitentiary (Angola), a Tuskegee Airmen airplane from World War II, and a slave cabin from South Carolina, among many other significant cultural artifacts.
Silman participated in the initial programming study, completed in the fall of 2008, and was a member of the design team in collaboration with Guy Nordenson and Associates. The firm is responsible for the foundation and below-grade structural design, as well as for part of the CA work for above-grade. Site considerations included design for flood resiliency, a high water table, archaeology of the historic National Mall site, and the poor soils common to the area. The structure itself is reinforced cast-in-place concrete below grade and structural steel above grade.