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National Architecture Week: National Museum of African American History and Culture

Thomas E. Luebke, FAIA, for National Architecture Week #ArchWeek15

Mr. Luebke is the Secretary of the United States Commission of Fine Arts and recipient, along with Thomas E. Lollini, of the AIA 2015 Thomas Jefferson Award for Public Architecture.

As the head of the United States Commission of Fine Arts, Thomas E. Luebke, FAIA, is an advocate for both historic preservation and adaptive reuse, urging ahead projects that reinvent areas of our nation’s capital while preserving its history. The commission is responsible for vetting all new design proposals for the city, including monuments, memorials, museums, and more.

Currently under construction, the Smithsonian’s National Museum of African-American History and Culture, designed by David Adjaye, Hon. FAIA, provides an object lesson on the commission’s responsibilities to the sensitive and historic city around it. This new museum, located at the far northwest end of the National Mall, adjacent to the White House and the Washington Monument, had to appropriately address Washington’s most striking and vertical monument and the most famous American house in the world. It needed to act as the last urban gathering place on the Mall. And most importantly, it will be the last major Smithsonian museum added to the Mall—the final chapter of the nation’s cultural history in the federal core. image

“The public design review process requires the balancing of many values—including aesthetics, the quality of materials, functional needs, the preservation of cultural resources, environmental stewardship—and they may or may not be in conflict with each other.  The design review of the National Museum of African American History and Culture was a great success because of the willingness of the Smithsonian and the museum’s designers to have a productive dialogue, and that dialogue led to a final design that was better than when it started.  The multi-year engagement between the architects David Adjaye and Phil Freelon with the regulatory groups like the U.S. Commission of Fine Arts helped negotiate a complex design problem:  a long-sought home for the Smithsonian’s African American collections and programs, right on the National Mall in Washington.  The final design draws on African forms to create a new, uniquely American institution.” – Thomas Luebke, FAIA

concept designs for the NMAAHC building and landscape

David Adjaye and Kathryn Gustafson presented their concept designs for the National Museum of African American History and Culture (NMAAHC) building and landscape to the Commission of Fine Arts in April 2010. Shown discussing the model are (from left): David Adjaye, John Belle, Thomas Luebke, Kathryn Gustafson, Witold Rybczynski, Michael McKinnell, and Pamela Nelson.

“[Luebke’s] highly informed advice was critical for guiding and developing the design to address multiple concerns, including historic preservation, site planning, architectural development, and construction details,” Adjaye wrote in a recommendation letter. “As an opinion leader in the multi-agency regulatory process, Tom was an indispensable advocate for achieving the highest-quality design possible.” – David Adjaye, Hon. FAIA