The new National Museum of American Jewish History by Ennead Architects in downtown Philadelphia is a symbolic gesture of how the American dream can be realized through design. The building’s exterior serves as both symbol and function, facing Independence hall across the street with an airy open facade, while the heritage inside is protected by a custom terra cotta rain screen manufactured by Shildan Inc that symbolizes security, liberty and the protection of all citizens.
Michael Rosenzweig, the President and CEO of the museum writes “While the Museum will connect Jews more closely with their heritage, it will also give all visitors a greater appreciation of the diversity of the American experience and the freedoms to which all Americans aspire.” The architects used this theme as the guiding principle of the museum’s profile — the glass front expresses the openness and fragility of freedom, but behind the curtain wall is an interesting terra cotta tiled wall system that is both traditional and forward thinking. It represents the security that freedom affords American citizens with it heavy red grid structure floating above a transparent ground floor.
The terra cotta wall is interesting in its performance as well — it protects the insulated wall but still allows it to breath, eliminating moisture and lowering the temperature of the wall assembly on hot days. Air infiltration is also significantly reduced with the wall system. The screen façade, which also affords a walkout to gaze over the historic core of Philadelphia, is generously shaded by tile but still allows light into the space. It’s a great green design feature, and although the museum certainly could have incorporated more sustainable design strategies within, it does provide a unique example of fusing symbolic gesture with practical results.
Lead Photo © Jeff Goldberg/Esto