National Museum of American Jewish History by Andrew Rosenberg
The most recent addition to the iconic buildings of Independence Mall in Philadelphia is one dedicated to illustrating the American Jewish experience. The National Museum of American Jewish History (NMAJH) designed by Ennead Architects opened in November 2010. Adjacent to Independence Mall, the museum overlooks such attractions as Independence Hall, the Liberty Bell and the National Constitution Center. Built at a cost of $150 million by Philadelphia construction management firm Intech Construction, the five-story, 100,000-square-foot space includes 25,000 square feet of exhibit space, an 85-foot-tall atrium and a 200-seat theater. The terra cotta and glass building is topped out with a beacon of light meant to symbolize themes of faith and patriotism.
The striking exterior of the museum reflects a trend in cultural centers to incorporate warm, natural materials with high performance facades. The sole aesthetic elements of the NMAJH are accomplished with glass curtain wall and terra cotta rainscreen by Shildan Inc. While limiting the number of materials used creates an air of simplicity, the sophistication of the design is anything but.
An intricately designed “box” clad with 15,000 square feet of terra cotta appears suspended within the glass curtain wall. This geometric figure is softened with rounded edges and corners. Curved baguettes interwoven with a scalloped design, a pattern custom-developed by Shildan, run the length of the surface. Terra cotta baguettes serve as sunscreens, shading the windows from the glare of the Market and Fifth Street elevations.