National Museum of African American History and Culture and Louisiana Children’s Museum To Be Honored As 2021 Buildy Award Winners

The Mid-Atlantic Association of Museums (MAAM) is excited to announce two recipients for this year’s Building Museums™ Symposium’s Buildy Award: The Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture and the Louisiana Children’s Museum. The Buildy Award recognizes both museums for their leadership and exemplary accomplishment through the planning, construction, and life after opening. Spencer Crew, Interim Director, and Kevin Young, the new Director of the National Museum of African American History and Culture and Julia Bland, Chief Executive Director of the Louisiana Children’s Museum will accept their museum’s awards in March 2021 during a virtual Awards Ceremony at MAAM’s 16th Building Museums™ Symposium. The award recognizes the museums as an institution, their director and staff, and the building/design construction teams whose completed museum construction projects demonstrate high achievement in the lessons of the Building Museums™ Symposium: careful, creative planning and diligent implementation, leading to institutional sustainability. The purpose of the Buildy Award is to increase awareness within the field, and by the public at large, of the value of museums and the need for their ongoing rehabilitation and expansion to serve future generations. 

This year, the Buildy Award Selection Committee of the Building Museums™ Symposium chose to honor these two museums, in part, because each addresses significant social issues: social/racial justice and climate change/global warming, respectively. 

The National Museum of African American History and Culture (NMAAHC) in Washington, D.C. is the only national museum devoted exclusively to the documentation of African American life, history, and culture. It was established by an Act of Congress in 2003, following decades of efforts to promote and highlight the contributions of African Americans. The museum examines the history and culture of African Americans in the United States through exhibitions, programs, and convening spaces for discussion of relevant topics.  The design of the building is full of symbolic gestures that tie the African American experience with the lives of current visitors, either as memory or as hope. Since its opening in September, 2016, the museum has attracted more than seven million visitors and received more than 40 awards and recognitions. In 2018, the museum was awarded a LEED Gold certification by the U.S. Green Building Council’s Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) program.

The architectural collaboration of four firms — design architects The Freelon Group, David Adjaye Associates, Davis Brody Bond andThe Smith Group, plus the structural engineering firms of Guy Nordenson and Robert Silman, MEP/FP engineers firm of WSP, the landscape architecture firm of Gustafson Guthrie Nichol, and the exhibition design firm of Ralph Appelbaum Associates — met challenges along the way to create an extraordinary building and site. It is on a small, five-acre parcel of the Washington Monument Grounds, had extensive federal agency reviews and required private funding on a level that no African American museum had ever raised before. Approximately $270 million was raised within the private and philanthropic communities which was half the cost of the museum. The federal government funded the other half.

The Buildy Award Committee noted several factors which contributed to the success of The National Museum of African American History and Culture:

  1. Ingenuity in planning and process: Museum historians and conservators visited more than 12 cities across the United States to engage people who had museum-worthy artifacts to lend or donate and showed them how to care for them and keep them in their own collections. This collecting and preservation initiative, known as “Save Our African American Treasures” was a brilliant way to build a unique and outstanding collection while creating excitement about the Museum.
  2. Community benefit: The Museum ably serves local school groups and residents, but also draws a large number of visitors from across our nation and abroad. Regardless of race, age, or educational background it’s impossible to visit and not be emotionally moved by the exhibits or leave not having learned something striking about African American history and/or culture

The Louisiana Children’s Museum (LCM) in New Orleans, LA seeks to strengthen and support families and to have fun while doing it! Their mission is to create a place where kids use play, shared exploration, and dialogue to connect with the people and the world around them. 

Following Hurricane Katrina, Louisiana Children’s Museum sought to holistically address the health and development of children in a state that often ranks 48th or 49th in educational outcomes. The museum relocated from an indoor-focused experience in New Orleans’ Warehouse District to a new campus centrally located in 1,300-acre New Orleans  City Park. The Museum, which opened to the public in August 2019, presents a transformative model for children’s museums, one that weaves together indoor and outdoor learning opportunities along with literacy, parenting, early childhood research and environmental education activities to create a holistic and supportive environment for children and their families.

The design process for the Louisiana Children’s Museum was intentional, iterative, integrated, and fully engaged members of the community from the youngest to the oldest. Architectural, landscape, interior, exhibit, learning and graphic design processes all used shared goals from the Learning Framework and beautifully wove the planning processes together. Each design was effective in making the richly diverse culture of New Orleans, and those who shape the culture, visible and appreciated. As such, the museum has been recognized formally with national rankings, architectural, construction, and graphic design awards. The LCM is LEED Gold certified.The team, led by LCM CEO Julia Bland and project manager Allison Stouse, worked with Richard Franko FAIA of Mithun, architect and lead designer for the project. Mithun provided landscape architecture and interior design, while ARUP provided MEP and lighting, and Thornton Tomasetti the structural engineering. Collaborating architects were Waggonner & Ball Architects. Exhibitions designed by Gyroscope, Inc. built upon the Learning Framework by Vergeront Museum Planning, with environmental graphics by Studio Matthews.

Louisiana Children’s Museum Photo_ Kevin Scott

The Buildy Award Committee noted several factors which contributed to the Louisiana Children’s Museum’s success:

  1. Originality of concept: The Museum’s educational mission is served by the integration of landscape features with building design.
  2. Community benefit: The Museum provides a great experience for both kids and adults. The space was designed so that everyone can learn something new when they visit.
  3. Site: The interplay between interior and exterior spaces is extraordinary, especially for a museum.  

The Buildy Award is the only award program that recognizes the museum leadership and design team for their part in guiding the planning and construction process to a high level of success. The museum director must address the competing interests of staff, trustees, financial contributors, artists, architects, engineers, contractors, visitors, and other parties.  Winners of the Buildy Awards have managed to guide their teams to create lasting assets for their institutions and their communities within a financially sustainable framework.

The Buildy Award Selection Committee consisted of the following participants:

  • Craig Williams (Chair), Architect, David M. Schwarz Architects, Washington, D.C.
  • Ann Trowbridge, Smithsonian Institution, Washington, D.C.
  • Claire Larkin, Museum Consultant
  • Sandra Vicchio, Sandra Vicchio Associates, Baltimore, MD
  • Christopher Moore, Whiting-Turner Contracting Company, Baltimore, MD
  • Nancy Walsh, Denver Museum of Nature & Science
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