SAH Study Day

SAH Study Day
National Museum of African American History and Culture
Washington, D.C.
Saturday, September 29, 2018
8:30 AM – 5:30 PM

This program has reached capacity. Thank you!
Fellowship Deadline: Friday, August 24, 2018, 11:59 PM CST

Join SAH for our annual study day at the National Museum of African American History and Culture (NMAAHC) and meet with Museum Curator Michelle Joan Wilkinson. Architect Zena Howard and Chief of Construction Derek Ross will lead a tour of the museum that showcases the work of Lead Designer David Adjaye and Lead Architect Philip Freelon for the Freelon Adjaye Bond/SmithGroup team.

The NMAAHC is the only national museum devoted exclusively to the documentation of African American life, history, and culture. The Museum opened to the public on September 24, 2016, as the 19th and newest museum of the Smithsonian Institution. The building's location on the National Mall of the United States, adjacent to the National Museum of American History and the Washington Monument, and its design represent the past, present, and future of the African American experience. The corona shape of the building is inspired by the three-tiered crown used in Yoruban art from West Africa and references elements of the Washington Monument. The building's main entrance is a welcoming porch, which has architectural roots in Africa and throughout the African Diaspora. The porch and central water feature extend the building out into the landscape. The ornamental bronze lattice that wraps the building's exterior pays homage to the craftsmanship of enslaved African Americans. The NMAAHC is the first museum on the National Mall designed to sustainability standards, and it interacts with this unique site through the use of natural light, diverse materials, water elements, and panoramic views that enhance the historical and emotional journey of its visitors. In 2018, the museum earned LEED Gold certification from the U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC) for design and construction.

When the tour concludes, you can spend the remainder of the day exploring the NMAAHC on your own. In the evening, the group will convene at The Old Ebbitt Grill, Washington’s oldest saloon, founded in 1856.


8:15 AM – 8:30 AM
Group arrival in the NMAAHC Lobby

8:30 AM – 8:45 AM
Welcome and introductions

8:45 AM – 10:30 AM
Private tour of the NMAAHC

10:00 AM – 5:30 PM
Museum is open to general public
Free time to explore the NMAAHC and exhibitions

6:00 PM – 7:00 PM
Informal gathering at The Old Ebbitt Grill (optional)






All photos: Alan Karchmer/NMAAHC


SAH Contact:
 Christopher Kirbabas, Director of Programs


Michelle Joan Wilkinson

Museum Curator
National Museum of African American History and Culture

Michelle Joan Wilkinson, PhD is a curator at the Smithsonian Institution National Museum of African American History and Culture (NMAAHC). Wilkinson co-curated two of the inaugural exhibitions for the new museum: A Changing America: 1968 and Beyond and A Century in the Making: Building the National Museum of African American History and Culture. Wilkinson is also developing the museum’s collections in architecture and design.

Prior to NMAAHC, Wilkinson spent six years as Director of Collections and Exhibitions at the Reginald F. Lewis Museum of Maryland African American History & Culture. In that capacity, she curated over twenty exhibitions, including A People’s Geography: The Spaces of African American Life and two award-winning shows—Material Girls and For Whom It Stands. She has also worked at the National Gallery of Art, the Smithsonian American Art Museum, and the Studio Museum in Harlem.

In 2012, as a fellow of the Center for Curatorial Leadership, Wilkinson completed a short-term residency at the Design Museum in London. Wilkinson’s current research project, “V is for Veranda,” about architectural heritage in the Anglophone Caribbean, has been presented to international audiences in Suriname, England, India, and the United States. She holds a B.A. from Bryn Mawr College and a Ph.D. from Emory University.


Zena Howard
Principal and Managing Director

Zena Howard, FAIA is a Principal and Managing Director of the North Carolina practice of global architecture and design firm Perkins+Will. An award-winning architect, strategist, mentor and team builder, Zena is known for her success leading visionary, complex, and culturally-significant projects including the Smithsonian Institution’s National Museum of African American History and Culture in Washington, DC, several libraries for Durham County in Durham, NC, the Anacostia and Tenley-Friendship Neighborhood Libraries in Washington, DC, the Motown Museum Expansion in Detroit, MI, and the New Brooklyn Village development initiative in Charlotte, NC.

She is also Managing Principal and Lead Facilitator for the City of Vancouver Hogan’s Alley initiative and the City of Greenville Town Common Sycamore Hill project. Zena is helping these and other clients envision and create cultural destinations that will celebrate the history and context of displaced, forgotten communities.

Zena is an advocate for diversity within the architecture profession, a field where minority and women professionals are historically under-represented. She is a founding member of Perkins+Will’s Diversity + Inclusion Council, and associate professor of architecture at North Carolina State University College of Design.

A North Carolina native, Zena earned her undergraduate degree in architecture from the University of Virginia.

Derek Ross
Derek Ross
Deputy Director of the Construction Division
Office of Planning, Design and Construction
Smithsonian Engineering
Derek Ross, RA, LEED AP is Deputy Director of the Construction Division Office of Planning, Design and Construction within the Smithsonian Facilities (SF) at the Smithsonian Institution. The Office is responsible for all the construction projects throughout the 19 museums, 9 research centers and the National Zoological Park of the Smithsonian. 

Ross has served as the Associate Director / Chief of Construction on the construction efforts over the last 25 years. He joined the Smithsonian Institution in 1992 as a Construction Manager responsible for all construction projects on the South Mall. In 1996 Ross was selected as Chief of Construction. The construction of the National Air and Space Museum’s Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center, The National Museum of the American Indian, and the Donald W. Reynolds Center for American Art and Portraiture were completed under his leadership. In addition to his duties as Deputy Director, Ross is the Institution’s Senior Construction Executive on National Museum of African American History and Culture. During his tenure as the Chief of Construction of the Smithsonian, over $1 billion in design and construction has been completed. 

Ross earned a Bachelor of Architecture at The University of Miami, holds current Architecture registrations in the State of Maryland and the District of Columbia, is certified in Erosion and Sediment Control for the State of Maryland and is an accredited professional in Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED AP). 


An SAH Study Program Fellowship is available for the SAH Study Day and is open to current full-time graduate students and emerging professionals. The fellowship includes a travel stipend of up to $200 intended to provide underwriting for travel to and from Washington, DC. Visit the Research Fellowships page for full criteria and to apply.

Application Deadline: Friday, August 24, 2018


The Society of Architectural Historians (SAH) is registered with the American Institute of Architects’ Continuing Education System (AIA CES) to provide learning units for participation in various events offered by SAH. To receive the eligible number of learning units for your transcript, please provide your AIA member number when you register for this program. At the conclusion of the program, SAH will report your earned learning units to AIA and will notify you to review your transcript to ensure it has been officially recorded.


SAH thanks The Richard H. Driehaus Foundation
for its operating support.
Society of Architectural Historians
1365 N. Astor Street
Chicago, Illinois 60610
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