Smithsonian Issues Request for Qualifications for Architectural Firm to Design New Museum
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Smithsonian Issues Request for Qualifications for Architectural Firm to Design New Museum
Image showing the four potential sites for the new National Museum of African American History and Culture. Image courtesy of the Smithsonian.

WASHINGTON.- The Smithsonian has issued a Request for Qualifications (RFQ) today to architectural firms, inviting them to submit their professional qualifications to design the National Museum of African American History and Culture, scheduled to open in 2015 in Washington. The RFQ is the first step in the process to hire an architect for the museum, which will hold a place of honor on a five-acre site on the National Mall—on Constitution Avenue between the Washington Monument and the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History.

“We are pleased that we have reached this important milestone in the creation of the museum,” said Lonnie G. Bunch, founding director of the museum. “We are convinced that this process will lead us to the most highly qualified architectural and engineering firm. We also look forward to working with a firm whose members share our respect for the National Mall and are excited about creating a signature, green building that will be worthy of its site, the Smithsonian and the richness of African American culture.”

The RFQ, posted today on, describes the process and the criteria by which the firms will be judged. An evaluation board of experts primarily from the Smithsonian (architects, engineers and museum professionals) will review all proposals submitted before the Sept. 19 deadline.

In addition to posting this announcement on, the Smithsonian has reached out to a number of architectural and engineering firms: members of the American Institute of Architects and the National Organization of Minority Architects, firms that have expressed interest in this museum and other Smithsonian projects and firms with experience in museums and major public buildings.

The initial evaluation will be based on a number of criteria, including:

•The architectural team must have the qualifications and licensed professional architects and engineers to execute such a major project.

•Key personnel must have expertise and experience in a variety of areas, including architecture, landscape architecture, structural engineering, fire protection/security and life safety engineering and sustainable design. In addition, several specialty disciplines are required in the RFQ, including lighting design, environmental planning, acoustics design and food service, retail and theater design.

•The firm must be able to accomplish the design of the building within 36 months.

•An office must be established within 30 miles of the museum site to facilitate communication with Smithsonian staff.

•Demonstrate an appreciation of African American history and culture. The RFQ language states: “Detail in writing how you will infuse your participation and vision for this project with an appreciation of African American history and culture.”

The evaluation board will narrow the field of applicants to three to seven firms and will then turn the process over to a design competition board, which will include outside experts and Smithsonian professionals. The design competition board will review the finalists’ concept designs and rank them. The highest-ranked firm will be asked to submit a formal proposal and subsequently will begin contract negotiations with the Smithsonian.

The schedule calls for the firm or architectural team to be named in spring 2009. The building design will take up to three years, with construction set to begin in 2012. During the building-design process, approval will be sought from the National Capital Planning Commission. In addition, the Smithsonian will consult with a number of Washington agencies and organizations, including the U.S. Commission of Fine Arts, the Advisory Council on Historic Preservation, the National Park Service, the National Trust for Historic Preservation, the Association for the Study of African American Life and History and the National Coalition to Save Our Mall.

The Smithsonian has already worked with several firms for the early planning of this new museum—an architectural and engineering team to evaluate the four sites selected by the Congress for the museum, an architectural and exhibit design group to study the programmatic needs of the museum so that the building will meet the needs of the museum visitors and staff and a multi-disciplinary team to prepare the Smithsonian’s environmental impact statement and historic preservation review.

The National Museum of African American History and Culture was established in 2003 by an Act of Congress, making it the 19th Smithsonian Institution museum. The enabling legislation also established an advisory council for the museum to advise the Smithsonian Regents on such matters as the planning, design, construction and administration of the museum and acquisition of objects for the museum’s collections. Heading the 19-member council are Richard D. Parsons, chairman of the board of Time Warner Inc., and Linda Johnson Rice, president and chief executive officer of Johnson Publishing Company Inc. Council members include Oprah Winfrey, chairman of Harpo Inc., and Quincy Jones, producer and multimedia entrepreneur.

The museum is establishing a national presence by presenting exhibitions and educational programs in key cities across the country including Atlanta, Chicago, Los Angeles and New York. Its inaugural exhibition, “Let Your Motto Be Resistance,” explores 150 years of African American photography and is currently on view in Los Angeles as part of a three-year, eight-city tour.

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