The National Museum of the United States Army (NMUSA), a cultural institution that is the first to tell the story of the oldest branch of the United States military, recently completed and opened on Veterans Day.
Located 20 miles outside of Washington, D.C., the facility is designed to serve as a center of education, and the symbolic front door of the Army. The museum focuses on the individual soldier, not battles or wars, to tell a centuries-long narrative of honor, sacrifice, and valor.
The LEED Silver-certified museum spans 84 acres across the Fort Belvoir Military Installation in Virginia and comprises a series of pavilions for exhibits and special events. The building leverages the site’s natural topography and rests atop a plateau to evoke a sense of monumentality. SOM’s design and planning for the future of the site includes a quiet memorial garden, a parade field and grandstand, and an Army Trail with interpretive stations.
Symbolism is at the core of the museum’s design. The symbolic experience begins with the access road, which offers a glimpse of the stainless steel-clad museum through the tress and across a long meadow. The museum rises to 100 feet at its peak, and its facade is composed of a regular grid of laser-cut stainless steel panels that establish a sense of rigor and discipline that are central to the design. At the corner of each pavilion, recessed glass panels alternate with painted aluminum fins to add a sense of dynamism. The complex lies on a three-foot grid system with every joint and edge of the building falling on each subdivision with precision, meaning the aluminum fins are spaced 18 inches apart to fall exactly on the edges of the panels.
Inside, the symbolism continues with stainless steel pylons sharing individual soldier stories and leading visitors from the promenade, through the vestibule, and into the exhibition hall. The grand lobby, which can be used as an event space, includes the Department of the Army’s emblem inscribed on the terrazzo floor and a black granite wall that lists every campaign from the Army’s history. Above, a coffered ceiling with 22 rows of translucent, laminated glass panels match the colors of the campaign streamers from the Army’s past.
Retail, a cafe, the first of three landscaped terraces, and exhibition spaces including a 300-degree theater surround the lobby. A monumental staircase leads visitors to additional exhibition spaces on the second floor.
Glass and wood thresholds connect each pavilion to signify transitions between spaces and provide views outside. On the third floor a wood-clad Veterans’ Hall serves as an event space supplementing the lobby. The Veterans’ Hall connects to the Medal of Honor Garden. Here, a 10-foot-tall black granite wall is engraved with the names of every medal recipient.
Sustainable features include increased insulation, improved glazing, high-efficiency LED lighting, automatic daylighting controls and occupancy sensors, and a green roof.