Sited at the port of arrival for nearly half of all enslaved Africans brought to North America, the design serves and celebrates the museum’s mission by granting primacy to the seascape on which it fronts, the landscapes that frame it, and the memorial for which it provides shelter.
The museum is housed in a one-story building volume measuring 84 feet wide, 426 feet long, and 24 feet high, raised 13 feet above the ground on a double row of cylindrical columns. The underside of the museum shelters a large open space that is the heart of the site’s collective memory. On the eastern section of this outdoor space, oriented to the harbor and ocean beyond, a shallow reflecting pool signifies the edge of Gadsden’s Wharf as it was at the beginning of the nineteenth century, at the peak of the slave trade.
The materials reflect a careful contextual response to a highly charged historical site. On its north and south sides, the building is clad in a warm brick, while the east and west ends are enclosed in clear glass shaded by angled wooden louvers. The structure’s supporting columns are clad in an oystershell tabby, a material also used as paving in portions of the ground plane.
On the site of the former Gadsden’s Wharf on the Cooper River, overlooking Charleston Harbor
41,800 ft2 / 3,900 m2 gross area; exhibit area, administrative offices, museum shop
International African American Museum
Architecture; exterior envelope; interior design of public spaces
Designed for LEED certification
A grand stair ascends through a skylit atrium to the main level of the museum, 18 feet above the ground with views overlooking the water through eastern balconies. This interior space provides ample flexibility for the arrangement of programmed spaces.
Architect of Record: Moody Nolan, Columbus, Ohio; Landscape: Hood Design, San Francisco; Interpretive Design: Ralph Appelbaum Associates, Inc., New York; Structural: Guy Nordenson and Associates, New York; Mechanical / Electrical / Plumbing: Arup, USA; Images: Pei Cobb Freed & Partners, PCF&P