Bronzed Aluminum on the ‘Corona’ at NMAAHC


Opening tomorrow on the National Mall is the National Museum of African American History and Culture.  The building features a facade comprised of 3,600 cast-aluminum panels with a bronze finish that have been referred to as the “Corona” by architect David Adaye.  Adaye has said “Bronze is a material for both memorials and monuments.”  However, there is also more symbolic depth to the material choice.  The facade is a tribute to black craftsman, acknowledging the history of the slave trade within all forms of labor- not simply cotton.  Adaye explained that “it was about bridge building, canals, house making”  and the patterns on the panels pay homage to the ironwork and metalsmithing of freed African-American slaves from Charleston and New Orleans.  Adaye said in an interview that “bronze was perfect for the panels on the outside” but the weight of bronze would be an issue.  The building is part of the Smithsonian which demands that its buildings be guaranteed for 50 years.  The cost and longevity of the bronze itself was not of concern, it was the weight of such a facade being taxing on the mechanical fixings.  If some failure were to occur, and part of the facade needed to be removed, the weight of one bronze panel would be 10-20 times heavier than the bronzed aluminum panels that ultimately were employed.  These panels are similar in weight to a heavy double-glazed panel of glass and can reasonably be unbolted and moved by four men.  The result is a facade system that weighs 230 tons.  The panels prevent glare and heat gain inside the building.  The panels also have varying degrees of “porosity” meaning that algorithmic design software was used to variegate the transparency of each panel resulting in certain privileged views (the Jefferson Memorial, Washington Monument, Lincoln Memorial, Congress, National Archives, White House, etc.).  The building’s appearance changes with shifting light being described as a transition from “somber to silver.”  While some criticize the new NMAAHC as being aesthetically anomalous within the context of the National Mall, David Adaye argues that his research shows that Pierre Charles L’Enfant [the Mall’s planner] imagined palace buildings “but then at junctions, corners, ends, he allowed for form.”  The new NMAAHC can be found at one of these ends, adjacent to the Washington Monument.  The aesthetic contextual discussion will continue to be had but in the meantime David Adaye says “on a sunny day– I will show you an image, you’ll freak– people go, It’s on fire!”


Left: One of the mock-ups used to test the coloring and patina of the metal panels.  Right: the backside of a panel


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