The National Museum of the United States Army walks visitors through every generation of the Army, focusing not on battles or wars, but on the individual soldier – a centuries-long narrative of honor, sacrifice, and valor. Its site traverses 84 acres of the Fort Belvoir Military Installation, a bucolic site located just 20 miles outside of Washington, D.C. The placement of the 100-foot-tall museum, designed in a series of five pavilions for exhibits and special events, is inspired by the planning of the United States Military Academy at West Point. Like the academy, the museum leverages this site’s natural topography – resting atop a plateau to evoke a sense of monumentality.
The architecture was guided by three core ideals: discipline, modesty, and rigor. Each of these ideals are expressed in the facade, which is composed of a regular grid of laser-cut, stainless steel panels. The simplicity and sharpness of this enclosure allows reflections to be cast on the building – transforming its character through every season and time of day. At the corner of each pavilion, recessed glass panels alternate with painted aluminum fins to add a sense of dynamism.
Stainless steel pylons sharing individual solider stories lead visitors from the promenade, through the vestibule, and into the exhibition hall. The interiors are characterized by natural materials, from stone floors to American white oak and ash finishes. Glass and wood thresholds connect each pavilion, marking transitions between spaces and providing views outside. The lobby, which can transition into an event space, features a coffered ceiling with 22 rows of translucent, laminated glass panels that match the colors of historic campaign streamers. This entry space is surrounded by retail, a cafe, the first of three landscaped terraces, exhibition spaces, a theater with a 300-degree screen, and a monumental staircase that leads to more exhibitions on the second floor.
On the third level, the Veterans’ Hall provides additional event space and connects to the Medal of Honor Garden – a terrace featuring a 10-foot-tall granite wall engraved with the names of every recipient of the Army’s highest and most prestigious decoration. This garden terrace, located directly above the lobby, is emblazoned with the design of the medal, and features striped granite paving that aligns perfectly with the coffered ceilings below.
The way of reading the building is a lot like reading a uniform. This was a place where the veteran needed to feel at home from the moment they arrived: You can find yourself in the architecture.Read More
Through an integrated, proactive approach toward sustainability, the project minimizes the use of energy and water and engages actively with the outdoor environment. The stainless steel panels are rainscreen insulated, and the glazing is made of high performance glass that allows natural light to penetrate inside. High-efficiency LED lighting illuminates the interiors with automatic daylighting controls and occupancy sensors. Together, these features, along with a green roof, landscape restoration, and many other initiatives, culminated in the building’s official LEED Silver certification in 2019.