National Museum of the United States Army
Skidmore, Owings & Merrill
Fort Belvoir, United States
Colin Koop, Roger Duffy
Frank Mahan, Kristopher Takacs, Thierry Landis, Eliezer Lee, Mark Regulinski
Army Historical Foundation
One of the primary goals of the project was to create a symbolic experience. The museum is located on a bucolic, 84-acre site, and its placement is inspired by the planning for the historic United States Military Academy at West Point. Like the academy, the building rests atop a plateau to evoke a sense of monumentality. The building rises to 100 feet at its peak, and its facade is composed of a regular grid of laser-cut, stainless steel panels. During the day and into the evening, the stainless steel reflects its surroundings and the light from the sun, creating another level of dynamism within the facade by transforming the character of the building through every season and time of day. There is a simplicity and a sharpness to the paneling, and that is meant to evoke the discipline, modesty, and rigor that is 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 museum is a highly secure facility that nonetheless opens outward to the landscape and welcomes visitors, with landscape elements like standoffs and berms as well as building hardening and force protection measures.
For the future of the site, the design and planning also includes a quiet memorial garden, a parade field and grandstand, and an Army Trail with interpretive stations, all of which will enhance the educational and event opportunities for visitors to the LEED Silver-certified museum.
The Army Historical Foundation envisioned creating a building that would tell the complete story of the oldest branch of the U.S. military, all through the perspective of the individual soldier. The architects’ role was to manifest this personal experience into the design itself—to create a building that would resonate with any veteran. The design team drew inspiration from three core ideals—discipline, modesty, and rigor—that would come together to create a center of education and establish the Army’s symbolic front door. The architecture would have to help build a sense of community, and carefully balance the need between designing an inviting setting and meeting the construction requirements of a new building on an active military installation. The project also had to achieve LEED Silver certification, and be planned with the ability to expand in the future.
The museum walks visitors through every generation of the Army, focusing not on battles or wars, but on the individual soldier. A sense of community is at the core of the design—embodied in the building’s form, siting, and materiality. Its design balances the need for monumental expression with the desire for a comfortable environment in which veterans and their families feel at home.
Stainless steel pylons sharing individual stories lead visitors from the promenade to the interior, where glass and wood thresholds connect each of the five pavilions to signify transitions between spaces and provide views outside—making the landscape an integral part of the museum. In the lobby, the 22 rows of translucent, laminated glass panels match the colors of the campaign streamers from the Army’s past, again bringing focus to the individual soldier.
The pavilions are designed according to specific functions. The lobby can be transformed into a 460-seat banquet hall, and is surrounded by retail, a café, the first of three landscaped terraces, exhibitions, and a theater with a 300-degree screen. Exhibitions continue onto the second level, and on the third floor, the museum includes a wood-clad Veterans’ Hall—another event space—that connects directly to the Medal of Honor Garden, a terrace above the lobby for ceremonial events. The garden terrace is inspired by the medal’s three core character traits: intrepidity, gallantry, and valor, with a 10-foot-tall, black granite wall that is engraved with the names of every Army recipient of the prestigious medal.