15. October 2015

Smithsonian NMAAHC: David Adjaye’s Work

from Angie Tennyson

The Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture (NMAAHC) will complete in 2016, occupying the last available space on the National Mall in Washington D.C.


The museum was presented with a common problem found in commercial building design; “How to connect rooftop equipment while avoiding thermal bridging and rooftop moisture issues.

Construction at this site was similar to the Kimbell Art Museum and Contemporary Art Center in that they are especially sensitive to the concerns of air quality and humidity control due to the collections and various objects that are protected within. 


The Smithsonian NMAAHC needed a solution for thermal isolation as well as a structural support for the heavy rooftop equipment. The engineering team at Schock was able to offer a solution with Isokorb® type S22 which eliminated the thermal bridging concerns at the structural connection of the rooftop equipment.

The loads were factored for shear, moment, compression and tension with Isokorb® structural thermal breaks providing the solution to allow the Smithsonian to achieve continuous insulation throughout the roof membrane.

rooftop equipment thermal separation
Isokorb type S22 detail for Smithsonian roof equipment thermal separation.

While Isokorb® S22 are commonly used in a horizontal application for canopies such as the University of Massachusetts at Amherst, this instance required out of the box thinking (or turning the box). Instead of the structural thermal breaks installed horizontally, the Smithsonian incorporates Isokorb® beam connections in a vertical connection.

Structural thermal break Isokorb type S22 for roof structures
Structural thermal break installed horizontally for UMASS, and vertical installation for rooftop equipment in Smithsonian.



The proven thermal performance of Isokorb® aided the design teams in calculating of the level of results required to meet project goals.  Included on the design team was David Adjaye, OBE, who is well-known for his collection of architectural work.

Smithsonian NMAAHC Exhibit, Making Place: The Architecture of David Adjaye

Now through January 2016, David Adjaye is presenting an exhibition, bringing his collection of architectural work to one location.

“Making Place: The Architecture of David Adjaye” is a systematic organization of his work including the Smithsonian NMAAHC as the focal point of the curation.


Adjaye holds high regards for the NMAAHC Museum. In a recent video he stated that it “holds a celebration of the story of the African American communities, their story and contributions to the idea of America,” David Adjaye brought this celebration to  his design demonstrating the links between Africa and America, and how the African American story could be represented as a piece of work, the NMAAHC. The full  exhibit is currently running at the Art Institute of Chicago.


The exhibit is organized by Haus der Kunst, Munich, and the Art Institute of Chicago. Major funding has been generously provided by Nancy Carringon Crown and Steven Crown and Barbara Bluhm-Kaul and Don Kaul.

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Construction Image Smithsonian
Construction Image Smithsonian from September 2015

See the latest view at the Smithsonian Construction camera.

Project Information:

Project Name: Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture

Location: Washington D.C.

Architect of Record: Freelon , Adaye Associates, SmithGroup / McKissack &McKissack (the first African American-owned architectural firm in the US) provides project management services.

Structural Engineer: Robert Silman Associates, Guy Nordenson & Associates Architect

General Contractor: Clark Construction

Steel Erectors: Bosworth

Fabricator: Steel Fab


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