Metal Architecture Home

Copper Contemplation

Ma Specialfeaturecontemplativecourtinteriors  Jul17 3 Low Rez

Signature space creates therapeutic escape for museum visitors

As the latest addition to the National Mall in Washington, D.C., the National Museum of African American History and Culture (NMAAHC) pays homage to African American art, tradition, history and cultures. Designed and built to earn LEED Gold certification, the NMAAHC is widely considered (and was, in fact, designed to be) the most sustainable national museum ever constructed.

The building features ground-source heat pumps, a 100,000-gallon rain cistern, and an array of solar panels on the roof. As museum visitors transition from below grade to ground level, they find the Contemplative Court, a signature space enclosed by custom-copper interlaced glass walls with a 30-foot waterfall that descends into a pool in a conical shape, 20 feet in diameter. It's a resting place where families can discuss some of the things that resonate through the exhibit. New York City-based Davis Brody Bond, as part of the Freelon Adjaye Bond/SmithGroupJJR team, designed the below-grade spaces, including the Contemplative Court.

Of particular interest and winner of the Interiors category is the Court's ceiling. Designers wanted the Court to have an elegant appearance and a gloss to reflect the water's movement. To do this, perforated metal wall panels with an Emerald Copper, a mid-gloss blackened copper with green flecks, finish from Pure + Freeform, Oakdale, Minn., was custom created for this space. Bethesda, Md.- based Clark Construction was the general contractor.

"The perforated black green metal on the ceiling is a marine-grade aluminum coating with a blackened copper patina and an iridescent green pearl ink that is only visible in UV light," says Geoff Hahn, creative director, Pure + Freeform. "Since the oculus in the ceiling and the waterfall bring in both direct natural light and humidity, the material needed to be easy to clean, rustproof and UV stable. The green pearl spreads evenly at the opening of the oculus and then gently fades out to a satin dark finish. Depending on the time of day and the angle of the light, the pattern and concentration of the finish appears to change. No two interactions with the ceiling are the same."

Perforated metal was used for the Court's ceiling because the area doesn't have a lot of acoustical value. Perforated metal offered a level of serenity and a quiet aesthetic that solid metal couldn't offer. "As wellness becomes a major part of new buildings, acoustics can be essential part in providing mindfulness, harmony and calm in an increasingly connected and unsure world," Hahn adds.

Sidebar: Contemplative Court at the National Museum of African American History and Culture, Washington, D.C.

Completed: September 2015
Total square footage: 5,000 square feet
Building owner: Smithsonian Institution, Washington, D.C.
Architect: Davis Brody Bond, New York City,
General contractor: Clark Construction, Bethesda, Md.,
Metal wall panels: Pure + Freeform, Oakdale, Minn.,