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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

Year 2023

Architect Pei Cobb Freed & Partners and Moody Nolan

Project Details

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

Code ConsultingCCI

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

Construction ManagerTurner

Construction ManagementBrownstone

Exhibit FabricationSolomon Group

Display Case FabricationZone Display Cases

AV System IntegrationJohnson Controls

AwardsArchitecture MasterPrize: Honorable Mention, Interior Design / Exhibitions

Photography Sahar Coston-Hardy/Esto