This much-ballyhooed project, which sits on the last available lot within the National Mall in Washington, D.C., was first conceived 100 years ago. Its 56-month realization involved three GCs, four architects, more than 30 consultants, 200 subcontractors, and 5,000 craft workers.
At almost every turn, the Building Team faced obstacles, not the least being the District of Columbia’s high water table. Three-fifths of the museum is below grade, and its construction entailed a 70-foot-deep excavation of 350,000 cubic yards of dirt. The Building Team developed a support-of-excavation system that could withstand water pressure of 37,000 pounds per sf.
To meet the client’s request that all ground-floor and above-grade spaces be column free, the Building Team used four steel/cement structural cores to support the building’s superstructure and façade.
The museum, which resembles an upside-down pyramid, is distinguished by “The Corona,” a striking curtain wall consisting of 3,600 panels modeled on West African art. The original cast-bronze design was deemed too expensive, so the Building Team chose cast-aluminum panels that reduced the cost by $20 million. It also experimented with 20 colors and finishes to achieve the façade’s brown tint.
Natural light streams through a 20-foot-diameter oculus into an underground Contemplative Court. Outside, a 200-foot-long porch, supported by two 32-ton columns, cantilevers 40 feet over a water feature.
The museum houses 36,000-plus artifacts and was literally built around two of them—an 80-foot-long Pullman railway car, and a guard tower from Louisiana’s notorious Angola Prison—that two 550-ton cranes lowered into place early in construction.
Building Team – Submitting firm, contractor Clark Construction Group Owner The Smithsonian Institution Architects Adjaye Associates, Davis Brody Bond, SmithGroupJJR, The Freelon Group Interior architects Perkins+Will, Davis Brody Bond (below grade) Exhibit designer Ralph Appelbaum Associates Structural engineers Robert Silman Associates (below grade), Guy Nordenson and Associates (above grade) MEP engineer WSP USA General contractor Joint venture of Clark Construction, Smoot Construction, and H.J. Russell & Company Construction manager McKissack & McKissack
General Information – Size 409,000 sf Cost $413 million Construction time January 2012 to September 2016 Delivery method Design-bid-build