International African American Museum
Charleston, South Carolina
The International African American Museum (IAAM) is located on the waterfront site that was the port of arrival for nearly half of all enslaved Africans brought to North America in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. The museum is dedicated to telling their stories and celebrating the contributions of their descendants.
IAAM is housed in a building designed by Pei Cobb Freed & Partners and Moody Nolan, with landscape design by Hood Design Studio. Working closely with the firms, RAA aimed to create an environment that honors the site’s history while supporting an array of exhibitions, events, and educational resources. Visitors enter a luminous atrium at the center of the building, moving from shadow to light as they ascend the monumental stair. On the upper level, large windows at both ends offer unobstructed views of the port and the city.
The museum’s exhibition themes include connections across the African diaspora, the spread of African American culture and influence, and the movements for justice and equality. RAA planned the narrative flow of the installations around the architecture, with an introductory corridor and orientation theater leading to multimedia displays of South Carolina and Gullah Geechee culture, African roots, and the Atlantic world.
The west side features a chronological, interactive gallery called American Journeys, juxtaposed with media related to the legacies of slavery and current movements for racial equality. The Center for Family History provides a resource for the study and advancement of African American genealogy, offering a unique collection of primary sources.
To develop the interpretive scope of IAAM, RAA worked with the museum’s leaders to coordinate collaborative workshops and community forums to better understand sensitivities around the historic topics. RAA also collaborated with the curatorial team to coordinate a network of scholarly and community advisors to review galleries for inclusivity and audience sensitivities.
The New York Times wrote: “if such a museum expands the parameters of history, and this one does, that’s a lot. Which, I guess, is why I ended up on a visit awarding it my sincerest accolade: At closing time I didn’t want to leave.”
Size 23,000 square feet
Architect Pei Cobb Freed & Partners and Moody Nolan
Landscape DesignHood Design Studio
Structural EngineeringGuy Nordenson and Associates
M/E/P/FP Engineering; Acoustic Consulting; Communications Infrastructure; Security Consulting; Lighting Design (Base Building, Exterior, Landscape)Arup, USA
Landscape Architect of RecordSeamonWhiteside
Construction Cost ConsultingVenue Consulting
Civil Engineering; SurveyForsberg Engineering
Geotechnical & Environmental EngineeringS&ME
Traffic EngineeringBihl Engineering
Water Feature M/E/PAqua Design International
CommissioningWhole Building Systems
Museum Planning and ImplementationCarolynne Harris Consulting
Lighting Design (Exhibit Spaces)Technical Artistry
Multimedia Design and ProductionCortina Productions
Exhibit FabricationSolomon Group
Display Case FabricationZone Display Cases
AV System IntegrationJohnson Controls
AwardsArchitecture MasterPrize: Honorable Mention, Interior Design / Exhibitions
Photography Sahar Coston-Hardy/Esto