Take an Interactive Tour of the National Museum of African American History and Culture

What to expect when you visit the Smithsonian’s newest museum

August 31, 2016

The anticipation is palpable, as the opening of the National Museum of African American History and Culture approaches. When the museum released 28,500 timed-entry passes for the opening weekend, they were gone within an hour.

Museum officials expect to use the free timed-entry passes well into 2017, so potential visitors should plan on scheduling far ahead of time. More information on the passes is available at

The museum and its 35,000 treasured artifacts are telling a new story about America. In what will likely be the last new building on the National Mall, the museum represents a once-in-a-generation opportunity to reintroduce important ideas and themes to an eager public.

As museum director Lonnie Bunch wrote in his essay for Smithsonian:

I think the museum needs to be a place that finds the right tension between moments of pain and stories of resiliency and uplift. There will be moments where visitors could cry as they ponder the pains of the past, but they will also find much of the joy and hope that have been a cornerstone of the African-American experience. Ultimately, I trust that our visitors will draw sustenance, inspiration and a commitment from the lessons of history to make America better. At this time in our country, there is a great need for contextualization and the clarity that comes from understanding one’s history. I hope that the museum can play a small part in helping our nation grapple with its tortured racial past. And maybe even help us find a bit of reconciliation.

These principles guided designer David Adjaye and architect Philip Freelon as they planned this new museum. The soon-to-be iconic three-tiered design of the building was modeled on a sculpture by a Yoruban artist and its intricate exterior brass work honors the unheralded craftsmen of the American South.

Secretary Clough, former First Lady Laura Bush, museum director Lonnie Bunch and other dignitaries break ground for the new museum (Michael Barnes, SI)
The construction site of the museum in January 2013 (Wikimedia Commons)
The Jim Crow-era railway car is trucked through the streets of Washington, D.C. to the museum construction zone to be lifted into the museum on November 17, 2013. (James Di Loreto, SI)
Arrival of the Jim Crow-era railway car in white on November 17, 2013 to the construction site (Donald E. Hurlbert, SI)
Founding director Lonnie Bunch at the construction site, November 2013 (James Di Loreto, SI)
The Jim Crow-era railway car is dropped into place inside the construction zone on November 17, 2013. (Brittany M. Hance, SI)
The museum and its 35,000 treasured artifacts are telling a new story about America. (Jason Flakes)
View from the National Mall at Madison Avenue (Jason Flakes)
Exterior brass work honors the unheralded craftsmen of the American South (Jason Flakes)
West side (Jason Flakes)
North view, Constitution Avenue (Jason Flakes)
From Constitution Avenue, the green roof over the galleries below and the glass oculus (Jason Flakes)
The glass oculus, site of a former slave market (Jason Flakes)
The entrance way paths cross over the roof of the underground galleries (Jason Flakes)
East view (Jason Flakes)
North view (Jason Flakes)
A view of museum from Constitution Avenue (Jason Flakes)
From the National Mall, the museum's south side view (Jason Flakes)
The front porch of the museum fronts Madison Avenue on the south side (Jason Flakes)
The three-tiered design of the museum's corona is modeled on a sculpture by a Yoruba artist (Jason Flakes)
Interior view of Heritage Hall (Todd Stowell)
Inside the sports hall, visitors can stop to rest in ballpark seats and watch video clips. (Todd Stowell)

This interactive highlights these features, as well as many other aspects of the museum that visitors will encounter in their experience. Important features about the building are highlighted in blue while some of the signature artifacts are highlighted in orange. 

To view all four sides of the building, click on the spiraled arrow on the right. To explore the building, roll over and click on the graphic callouts.  

As you make your virtual journey through the interactive, and then hopefully see the stunning exhibits and architecture for yourself on the National Mall, experience the building that director Lonnie Bunch says will “Sing for all of us.”  — Beth Py-Lieberman