The National Museum of African American History and Culture (NMAAHC) is a new Smithsonian institution located on the National Mall in Washington, DC for which Southland provided mechanical, plumbing, and building automation services. Opening later this month, it is the only museum dedicated entirely to African American culture and history.

There are four pillars upon which the NMAAHC stands, both figuratively and literally. Within the facility’s shell stands four structural core ‘pillars’ which the museum was built around. The NMAAHC also created four pillars to explain to guests what the museum was built on. Our team took each of the pillars to heart and strived to apply all of them to our own work:

1. History
The museum provides an opportunity for those who are interested in African American culture to explore and revel in this history through interactive exhibitions.

Installing the equipment properly to create a comfortable environment for guests to enjoy the historical artifacts was a crucial part of Southland’s work. To do so, our team installed all terminal units within the museum’s basement to isolate noise and control acoustic levels. This approach allows the exhibits to be maintained at the correct acoustic levels.

2. Culture
The museum helps all Americans see how their stories, their histories, and their cultures are shaped and informed by global influences.

Knowing the importance of having such culturally significant artifacts within the museum, our construction team needed to install HVAC systems as accurately and efficiently as possible. Without our team’s precise installation, preserving the vital artifacts would not have been possible. The systems we installed are responsible for controlling the humidity and temperature within each exhibit, while ensuring moisture does not build up within enclosures and items are kept well preserved and do not dry out.

3. American Values
The museum explores what it means to be an American and share how American values like resiliency, optimism, and spirituality are reflected in African American history and culture.

As the project began to move along, the project team ran into challenges along the way. Nonetheless, the motivation of sharing American values stood with us and we continued forward, optimistic about our ability to safely overcome the obstacles. One particular obstacle was material handling, due in large part to the tight site. To overcome floor-to-floor material handling, we utilized a hoist material platform. A platform was loaded with materials, lifted to the necessary floor and attached to the structural slab. This allowed for field crews to efficiently and safely place materials where the work was occurring to reduce down time and injuries related to material handling.

4. Collaboration
The museum serves as a place of collaboration that reaches beyond Washington to engage new audiences and to collaborate with the myriad of museums and educational institutions that have explored and preserved this important history well before this museum was created.

With collaboration being one of Southland’s own core values, this pillar is already inherently part of the way we work. Demonstrating our ability to exhibit this pillar, we collaborated with the designer of record to guarantee that larger systems, like air handling units, would fit within the designated spaces, as well as meet the integrity of the design. Additionally, collaboration among our field teams, coordination department, and operations team was vital in ensuring the project preserves the museum’s educational purposes for generations to come.

Overall, the new National Museum of African American History and Culture is a marquee project that has been in development for over a decade. Being able to help construct such a project is an opportunity that MEP building system firms do not always receive. Throughout the project, our team remained focused on the end goal of creating an iconic building, with a purpose of sharing a history and culture that all Americans can learn from for many years to come.


  • Mike Morder

    Design Engineer

    As a design engineer for Southland’s Mid-Atlantic Division, Mike Morder is responsible for generating innovative solutions for building HVAC and plumbing systems. He has experience with a variety of market sectors, including healthcare, commercial, and hospitality, as well as managing field coordination of mechanical systems. Mike is also a board member in the local ASHRAE chapter, where he has served as Membership, Programs and Newsletter Chairman.

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