Established after decades of efforts, the Smithsonian Institution’s National Museum of African American History and Culture is the nation’s only museum dedicated exclusively to documenting and highlighting the contributions of African Americans to the greater American story. The shape of the 400,000-square-foot building by lead designer David Adjaye in collaboration with The Freelon Group, Davis Brody Bond, and SmithGroupJJR, is inspired by Yoruba tribal motifs and is clad in ornamental panels adapted from iron castings made by slaves and former slaves in Charleston and New Orleans. The museum’s ten galleries fall into three main sections: History, Culture, and Community, and begin four stories below ground. As the exhibits move closer to the present day, the visitor rises higher in the building, finally reaching the fourth floor and its expansive views of the Mall. The Museum’s wide-ranging collection includes among its 33,000 items both a hymnal carried by Harriet Tubman dating to 1876 and the Mothership from George Clinton and Parliament Funkadelic.
A comprehensive and integrated environmental graphics, donor recognition, and wayfinding sign program was developed for the Museum, with the goal of creating a seamless linkage between the exterior elements and the interior spaces. The signs recall the intricate cladding, featuring layers of copper and sandblasted glass with lettering cut through the layers. Freestanding directories appear to emerge directly from the floor. Donor recognition walls, the largest of which is on the first floor with secondary panels on the lower level concourse
and throughout the building, are glass installed over copper walls.
Poulin + Morris’ work included identification signs for all galleries, café, museum shop, administrative offices,
and meeting rooms, as well as directional/wayfinding, interpretive exhibition, donor recognition, and code-required sign elements. The program also featured signs for spaces unique to this museum: Oprah Winfrey Theater, Contemplative Court, Explore More!, Council Room and Solomon Brown Suite. Outside the museum, the designers created the main exterior identification, the name of the museum sandblasted onto a retaining wall. That sign and the entire program uses fonts from Joshua Darden, one of the most prominent African-American
font designers working today.
Back to top
National Museum of African American History and Culture
© Poulin + Morris Inc. All rights reserved 2017.