Challenging Washington’s Architectural History

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Challenging Washington’s Architectural History
The National Museum of African American History and Culture, which is to open in September on the National Mall in Washington, D.C. / © Eric Taylor

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Challenging Washington’s Architectural History
The National Museum of African American History and Culture, which is to open in September on the National Mall in Washington, D.C. / © Eric Taylor

From day one, the American capital was designed as a city of the future, even if the architecture was rooted in the past. Now, after more than two centuries, history is loosening its grip.

Contemporary forces of globalism, advanced technology and sustainability are rattling the pillars of classicism. Greco-Roman monuments are still comfortable on the National Mall, but the door to diversity has been opened.

For the Smithsonian’s National Museum of African American History and Culture, opening in September, the London architect David Adjaye has introduced Yoruban architecture from West Africa directly opposite the classical obelisk of the Washington Monument. The museum’s dark, brooding facade opposite the white obelisk of the Washington Monument gives it the power of an earthquake on the Mall.

“I think some people were shocked,” Mr. Adjaye said by telephone from London, recalling his first presentation. “Some people were incredibly delighted.”

At the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts, an expansion project by the New York architect Steven Holl is lifting high-tech materials onto the pedestal once reserved for marble. With the magic of digital architecture and the brilliance of titanium white concrete, his sculptural forms can be expected to steal the spotlight from the headquarters. […]

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