Public Gardens

New African American Museum’s Landscape


Photo credit: Gustafson Guthrie Nichol

In honor of Martin Luther King, Jr. Day, let’s visit the recently opened National Museum of African American History and Culture, located on the grounds of the Washington Monument. The critically praised building is the work of Tanzania-born, London-based architect David Adjaye. I see from his firm’s website that he’s about to be knighted.


Photo credit: Gustafson Guthrie Nichol

The museum has been SO popular since its opening in September that I haven’t fought the crowds and wait times to see the inside – yet – but did pay a visit in October to check out the landscape by Seattle-based landscape architect Kathryn Gustafson of Seattle.

The water feature shown above – called a scrim – is a signature of Gustafson’s work and I’ll have to assume it’s here because I couldn’t get anywhere near it.

Fencing to control crowds obscures the view for anyone without a ticket (that would be me).



This is as close as I could get.

So for a tour of the design and plant choices for the museum I refer you the ASLA blog The Dirt. The writer was given a tour by Rodrigo Abela, who worked with Gustafson on this project.

Sadly, the landscape design originally proposed for the museum was diminished in a cost-saving move, highlighting the particular vulnerability of landscapes when it comes to funding. (The building also saw some cost-cutting, but less obviously.) But it’s sad to me only because I was present at the Commission of Fine Arts (the local review agency for federal projects) when the first landscape was presented by Gustafson and Abela.

All gardeners will recognize this as a newly planted landscape and know that it’ll look much better in a few years. So go now (if you can get a ticket), but don’t expect to love the museum’s surroundings just yet.


Even now, though, in winter, there are photo-ops galore of the stunning building and its iconic neighbor, the Washington Monument.



By the way, you may be familiar with Kathryn Gustafson’s most famous work to date – the Lurie Garden in Chicago’s Millennium Park. Garden Blogger Fling attendees filled their memory cards at the garden when we visited back in 2008 – in late May, the perfect time for capturing its river of salvias.


Posted by on January 13, 2017 at 9:49 am, in the category Public Gardens.
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3 responses to “New African American Museum’s Landscape”

  1. Garden Rant Garden Rant says:

    Cool! I bet the crowds will be more manageable tomorrow, thanks to the expected bad weather. So enjoy and lemme know what you thought! The reviews of the museum are off the charts positive.

  2. Ann Sheehan says:

    Thank you for this Susan. I’m going tomorrow with a bus of folks from one of Carlisle’s African American churches. They got tickets awhile back. We depart at 8am and I can’t wait!

  3. Mary Gray says:

    Thanks for the peek. I look forward to checking this place out for myself once the crowds die down. I really don’t think pictures of the museum itself do it justice. When I first saw pictures of it, it looked appallingly squat and dark, like a giant tank plopped down on the mall. But when I saw it in person I was amazed by the intricate metal work, which doesn’t come through in the photos.