Following a building design competition, a collaborative team of four architecture firms was chosen to design the state of the art National Museum of African American History and Culture. The team, The Freelon Group; Adjaye Associates; Davis Brody Bond; and the SmithGroup, is being led by principal architects Philip Freelon and David Adjaye.
The cultural expressionism design of the building is based upon the Yoruban corona or crown structure. This bronze corona expresses faith, hope, and resiliency. In the building's interior, the corona forms a perimeter surrounding the primary galleries of the museum, and has strategic openings that provide views of significant points in Washington offering "a view of America through the lens of African American history and culture." The building has five stories, although it is partially underground. Sustainability and environmental responsibility have been a key factor of the design, and will be an example of best practices in environmental design.
The external grounds are an integral component of the museum design. Water will be a dynamic feature, and the grounds will include elements such as a marsh garden, large reflecting pool, and flowing streams. According to museum director Lonnie Bunch, visitors will have to physically cross the water in order to enter the museum, symbolizing African slaves' over water journey.
The museum opened on September 24, 2016, in a ceremony presided over by President Barack Obama.