The gathering of peoples from throughout the world is one of the essential and ongoing stories of our nation. Yet, at the central gathering point in our nation's capital on or near the National Mall, there is little that tells a full and coherent story about all of the peoples that came to make this nation. Without this story being told here, there's a monumental void in the midst of our capital.
The favored site for the Museum, the Banneker Overlook site, is an eight-acre slope at the end of L'Enfant Promenade, an extension of 10th Street, S.W. The site is on a direct axis with the Smithsonian's Castle Building and reaches down to Maine Avenue and the Washington, D.C. waterfront along Washington Channel, an inlet of the Potomac River. It is adjacent to I-395.
The site has views across the river to Arlington National Cemetery, the Pentagon and National Airport in nearby Virginia and downriver scenes of Maryland. It is a short walk from the L'Enfant Metro stop. It is the only Metro stop that serves 5 of the system's 6 lines. There would be auto and bus access and parking nearby.
The large site affords an opportunity for the design of an architecturally significant building along with an inviting landscape. It is one of the major sites in Washington designated as a location for a future museum by three federal agencies -- the National Park Service, National Capital Planning Commission and U.S. Commission on Fine Arts. The three agencies would also approve the design of the building. The Overlook site is now under NPS jurisdiction.
The site also sits at the nexus of a major municipal effort to invigorate the DC waterfront area and to attract visitors from the Mall to the waterfront. The Southwest Waterfront project along Maine Avenue will include condos, shops, restaurants, a river walk and other amenities to attract visitors.
While the site sits just across I-395 and is joined to Washington's core tourist area by a roadway and pedestrian walkway across the busy freeway, there could be an effort to build a lid over the freeway to offer a stronger connection to these two sides of Washington. The lid could incorporate a park and sculpture garden to reflect the themes of the Museum. The proximity to the waterfront could also be used to extend the Museum's exhibition reach to a pier where boats — actual and replicas — used for the migration and immigration to the U.S. are moored for visitors to explore.
While the Arena Stage theater anchors Maine Avenue at one end, this museum could anchor the redesigned waterfront at the other end. The Museum's international food court and plaza, with a mix of restaurants and a gift shop along Maine Avenue, could remain open after museum hours and help to stimulate nighttime street life.
The site could include provisions for landscaping that could include water features and flora to enhance the beauty of the Museum building and its property. It could also include works of commissioned art relating to the subject matter of the Museum. These works of art could be placed within and outside of the Museum.
The Museum's final design would have to go through an extensive review process, as do all proposed buildings in Washington's central core area on or near the National Mall. Legislation would be required to create an entity that would be charged with building the museum and raising all of the money to build it.
The building housing the National Museum of the American People would need to accommodate its core permanent exhibition. It would also need to have space for special exhibitions, a film theater, auditorium, bookstore and gift shop, dining facility, classrooms, genealogical center, and library and archives. In addition, there would be a need for offices for Museum administrators, scholars, curatorial staff, educators, security, maintenance and other staff. The NMAP study commission could develop preliminary space requirements for the Museum based on space required by other major museums with similar programs.
MTFA Architecture of Arlington, Virginia developed a vision of what the museum could look like at this site.
The four soaring structures arising from the grass covered roof of the central building in the MTFA Architecture design evoke several aspects of the proposed Museum's story: Flags of nations over a landscape of waves, four books opening to reveal chapters of the story of the making of the American People or sails recalling vessels that brought many to this land over the early periods of the formation of the American people. The maritime aesthetic also relates to the nearby marina where an extension of the museum could berth sailing vessels of the type used to bring early European settlers, slaves, and others to these waters.
During the day, the textures of the concrete "flags" will constantly change with the movement of the sun's shadows across the facade. At night, films could be projected onto these surfaces. The MTFA Architecture design calls for a state of the art green building that would serve as a model for the Southwest Ecodistrict.
The final selection of an architect and site will be made by the Museum once it is created and the Museum will work with federal agencies and Congress to obtain the best possible site.
MTFA Architecture is an award-winning firm located in Arlington, Virginia that specializes in projects that shape our culture, build on commerce and positively shape people's lives. They have a long history of projects that build consensus for planning and design involving mixed use, commercial, cultural and educational functions.