Construction of the International African American Museum is underway at Gadsden’s Wharf
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Construction of the International African American Museum is underway at Gadsden’s Wharf

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The special design challenge of the museum was to build on this site without occupying it.
– Henry N. Cobb

Construction has begun on the International African American Museum, which has been designed by Pei Cobb Freed & Partners to honour the site at which enslaved Africans were brought into the US.

Initially proposed in 2000 and now scheduled for completion in late 2021, the 41,800sq ft (3,900sq m) facility is being constructed on Gadsden’s Wharf in Charleston, South Carolina.

It is estimated that up to 80 per cent of African Americans in the US today can trace their ancestry to the wharf.

"As the place where thousands of Africans from diverse cultures first set foot in North America, Gadsden’s Wharf is not just the right place to tell this story; it is hallowed ground," said Henry N. Cobb, founding partner at Pei Cobb Freed & Partners and lead designer for the project. "The special design challenge of the museum was to build on this site without occupying it."

To achieve this, the design raises a single 426ft (130m)-long, 84ft (26m)-wide volume 13ft (4m) above the ground on 18 cylindrical pillars, retaining a large public space below for visitors to spend time and reflect.

This approach also "grants primacy" to the seascape, along with its associations and sense of memorial.

The public space will feature a shallow pool that signifies the edge of the wharf as it was at the beginning of the nineteenth century and granite paving that marks out a gathering place for group activities and performances.

A memorial garden, designed by landscape architect Walter Hood, will celebrate the arts, crafts and labours of African Americans.

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Construction has begun on the International African American Museum, which has been designed by Pei Cobb Freed & Partners to honour the site at which enslaved Africans were brought into the US.
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