National Museum of African American History and Culture

Opened on September 24, 2016, the National Museum of African American History and Culture represents much more than a cultural and architectural landmark. It is also a representation of best practices in sustainable building design. WSP USA provided MEP engineering services as well as commissioning services and enclosure consulting on this $500 million project, which is situated on a 5-acre site in Washington D.C., between the Washington Monument and the National Museum of American History on the National Mall.



  • Washington, DC, USA


  • The Smithsonian Institution

Project Status

  • Completed in 2016


  • The Freelon Group; David Adjaye; Davis Brody Bond; and SmithGroupJJR

Innovative MEP Design

The building is expected to perform 30.5 percent better than the average code-compliant ASHRAE 90.1-2004 building, with a proposed energy use intensity (EUI) of 92.0 kBtu/square feet. The project is the first within the Smithsonian Institution to achieve this level of sustainability, to generate electricity and to use chilled beams.

Helping the museum reach this level of sustainability are many innovative features, including a 384-panel photovoltaic array capable of producing 102,562 kWH of electricity annually; occupancy sensors for daylight harvesting; chilled beam units for office areas; demand-controlled ventilation; and a rainwater and groundwater storage and re-use system. 


Photovoltaic array

Photovoltaic array, © Alan Karchmer/NMAAHC

Key Numbers

Panels in PV Array
384 384

The Corona

The primary architectural concept for the museum was derived from African art and architecture, with two superstructures shaped like crowns – referred to as the corona – rising from a porch-inspired base. The corona forms a canopy that provides shelter from the summer sun and channels breezes flowing from a water feature below. The corona was developed as a perforated panel system to provide natural light into the museum and gallery spaces, while also controlling solar heat gain.


facade detail

Facade detail, © Alan Karchmer/NMAAHC

Design Review

Our team also provided commissioning services for the museum, with an emphasis on design review prior to bid package and contractor/vendor selection. The objective was to reduce change orders during the construction phases, reducing costs and keeping the project on schedule.