With ‘The Grandmother of Juneteenth,’ Ms. Opal Lee, at the helm, the new Texas-based museum dedicated to preserving the history of Juneteenth and legacy of freedom will be housed in a purposefully designed space by BIG-Bjarke Ingels Group alongside the architect-of-record, African American-owned design and build firm, KAI Enterprises.
Located in the Historic Southside of Fort Worth, Texas – one of the South’s most underserved communities – The National Juneteenth Museum will be the epicenter for the education, preservation and celebration of Juneteenth nationally and globally, hosting exhibitions, discussions, and events about the significance of African American freedom. The new 50,000 square foot building, expected to break ground in 2023, includes immersive galleries, a business incubator, food hall for local vendors, Black Box flex space, and a theater.
The Historic Southside neighborhood in Fort Worth was divided by the I-35W highway in the 1960s – a time when major infrastructure projects slashed through neighborhoods of predominantly low-income communities across the country. The National Juneteenth Museum, designed in close collaboration with the local Fort Worth community, seeks to provide a cultural and economic anchor for this neighborhood and act as a catalyst for ensuring its future vitality.
BIG’s design proposal, led by BIG NYC Partner Douglass Alligood (AIA, LEED AP, NOMA), embraces the local African American experience–at-large through motifs, symbolic touchpoints, and inclusive wayfinding. Informed by the gabled rooftops that define the Historic Southside neighborhood, the museum merges the historic gabled silhouette of individual homes with their protruding porches to create spaces for learning, gathering, and contemplation.
The museum’s undulating roof creates a series of ridges, peaks, and valleys of varying heights that combine to create a ‘nova star’ shaped courtyard in the middle of the museum. Meaning ‘new star,’ the nova star represents a new chapter for the African Americans looking ahead towards a more just future. The publicly accessible courtyard will be the anchor for the museum and its activities. At the center of the courtyard, a ‘five point’ star is engraved into the terrazzo pavement in gold, featuring ‘starbursts’ of varying warm concrete colors.
In addition to representing Texas, the last state to adopt and acknowledge the freedom of African American slaves – the star nods to the American flag’s 50 stars that represent all 50 U.S states. While five street-level entrances allow the galleries and exhibitions to be accessed as individual spaces, two publicly-accessible covered ‘portals’ connect directly to the courtyard and main gallery entrances, welcoming visitors from both the north and the southwest of the site via generous entryways defined by warm, vibrant colors.
The mass timber structure that defines the design’s materiality continues into the interior, visually connecting the two realms. In addition to this visual continuity of the materiality, the building’s public and private realms are also interconnected through the museum’s circular layout; on the ground floor, the two portals that connect to the courtyard are flanked by each of the programs: one portion of the galleries, the business incubator, food hall for local vendors, Black Box flex space, and theatre.
To access the museum galleries, which begin on the ground floor, guests enter the generous reception area, and are guided to the light-filled mezzanine level via staircase or wheelchair-accessible elevator. The mezzanine level reveals the rest of the gallery spaces, which are connected by a ring of circulation that wraps the courtyard. Glass is utilized as the interior wall of both the ground and mezzanine floors to create a sense of openness and transparency while complementing the pared-back timber and concrete materials.
Similarly, the ‘nova star’ cut out of the roof at the center of the building of which the mezzanine wraps around allows light to travel through the entire space. Wrapping around the nova star shape above, the mezzanine galleries physically connect each of the programs while being literally elevated – providing visitors an above perspective of the public courtyard below, and those in the courtyard with views of the galleries above.
Outside the museum building, a network of plazas provides wayfinding opportunities, extending the sense of community of the interior to the outdoor spaces. Polished concrete and terrazzo flooring continue out to the exterior spaces, creating visual continuity between the public and private realms. Generous lawns, native landscaping, and wood seating are dispersed throughout the plaza areas, providing places for outdoor exhibitions, large-scale installations and gatherings. Source and images Courtesy of BIG-Bjarke Ingels Group.