US Army Museum Opens Outside DC

John Hill
13. November 2020
Photo © Dave Burk | SOM

The National Museum of the United States Army — billed as the first cultural institution to tell the story of the oldest branch of the US military — opened on November 11, Veterans Day.

The museum, designed by Skidmore, Owings & Merrill for the US Army and the Army Historical Foundation, is located on 84 publicly accessible acres of Fort Belvoir, located about 20 miles south of Washington, DC. Although the museum is open free-of-charge for visitors, who need to reserve timed tickets and follow the usual COVID-19 precautions, the opening ceremony took place virtually, featuring a half-dozen speakers inside the museum's lobby and helicopters buzzing above the stainless steel-clad building.

Photo © Dave Burk | SOM

According to SOM design partner Colin Koop, "Symbolism and community were at the core of our design. We wanted to create a place where veterans and their families could feel at home, and establish a new center of national significance that would, in its architecture, express that very significance and evoke three ideals: discipline, modesty, and rigorousness." These three ideals are most overtly expressed in the grid of laser-cut, stainless steel panels that wrap the building and reflect the surrounding landscape.

Photo © Dave Burk | SOM

Visitors enter the central double-height lobby, one of five interconnected rectilinear volumes that comprise the building. The largest is given over to exhibitions and theater, while the other three contain a cafe, retail, and a learning center. Upstairs are an art gallery, offices, meeting rooms, and a Veterans' Hall next to the Medal of Honor Garden that sits on the roof of the lobby. Both the lobby and the Veterans' Hall serve as event spaces for the museum.

Photo © Dave Burk | SOM

The 185,000-sf, five-story building, which reaches 100 feet at its peak, contains nearly 1,400 Army-related artifacts in eleven galleries. Christopher Chadbourne & Associates and Eisterhold Associates were responsible for the exhibition design, while Scenic Route, Inc. designed, fabricated, and installed the Experiential Learning Center, the Army Theater and the Medal of Honor Experience. According to SOM, the incorporation of sustainable features, including increased insulation behind those stainless steel panels, resulted in a LEED Silver certification.

Photo © Dave Burk | SOM

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