How to own a piece of America’s ground-breaking new museum…



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The new £400million Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture (NMAAHC) opens next week, President Obama will cut the ribbon on 24th September 2016 in Washington DC, and the architect responsible is nothing short of remarkable.

Eight years ago, British architect David Adjaye won the commission of a lifetime – he was tasked with designing the only museum exclusively devoted to African American life, history and culture, housing 360,000 significant artefacts. From items recovered in slave ship wrecks off the coast of Cape Town, South Africa to the Eyejammie Hip-Hop Collection of 400 photographs.

Today, his work sits complete alongside the Washington Monument and the White House on the iconic National Mall.

It’s a 400,000 square foot building encased in a lattice of 3,600 bronze-tinted cast-aluminium panels, which form shapes inspired by the ancient Yoruban sculpture forged in West Africa.

Even the filigreeing pays homage to ornamental iron-work created by African American slaves in New Orleans, such is Adjaye’s attention to detail and keen awareness of the building’s purpose.

‘You can just enjoy looking at the patterns or, if you dig into them, they pull you into this idea of Africans becoming American and what the human experience meant’, Adjaye told GQ Magazine.

Take a few steps in either direction, and the museum’s facade also appears to change as the light bounces differently off each panel.

Although the grand opening is mere days away, realising his vision wasn’t easy, Adjaye initially presented his design to a distinguished panel, including Oprah Winfrey and Colin Powell – before overcoming budget cuts, soaring construction costs and onslaught of criticism that (aged 41) he was too young and inexperienced to pull it off.

The Smithsonian NMAAHC, however, proves the critics wrong and launches him into the ‘Starchitect’ hall of fame.

‘Winning the project changed my career and completing it has dominated my working life ever since’, Adjaye told GQ.

‘For me, the joy of architecture is to keep on transforming the built environment to make it more inclusive for people’.

Somehow, in the midst of building the Smithsonian, Adjaye found time to design Knoll’s Washington Skeleton™ Aluminium Side Chair collection in 2013 – the first production pieces he ever created.


The copper-plated side chair, which patinas with time, was originally designed for the museum’s main dining room, though you can now sit on it in your own home or workplace.

Each die-cast aluminium frame is cantilevered to explore propping and balancing. Ultimately, he’s achieved a beautiful chair that’s both functional and sculptural. The design fans among you will certainly want to peer beneath the seat to find Adjaye’s own signature.

The collection’s fine geometric lattice was inspired both by Victorian cast-iron garden furniture and also the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture’s distinctive façade – here modified, reformed and engineered for sitting comfortably.

Want to use Knoll’s Washington collection outside? We can ask them to cover your side chair with a powder coat paint finish for you. Should you have any requests, please do get in touch.

Here at Ultimate, we wish David every future success with his iconic buildings, sculptural furniture collections and, of course, the opening of his Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture – 8 years in the making.

Cover image copyright Rex Hammock licensed for use under Creative Commons. Washington Skeleton™ Aluminum Side Chair image copyright KnollStudio.

Posted September 15, 2016

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