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Virginia African American Cultural Center

Guided by the principles of community, education, and culture - the planned Virginia African American Cultural Center celebrates heritage and unity through dynamic spaces for education and community engagement.

The Virginia African American Cultural Center is poised to become a beacon of unity, education, and celebration of African American heritage, offering essential resources alongside versatile spaces for gatherings, exhibitions, and performances to enrich the local community. Drawing inspiration from the traditions of oral transmission intrinsic to African culture, the center's architecture manifests this legacy through its storied walls and intricately patterned surfaces. Natural light plays across these surfaces, transforming spoken histories into permanent, visual testaments that connect diverse cultures.

The building is thoughtfully integrated into the surrounding community, offering updated basketball courts, recreational spaces, tiered seating, and areas for community events. Above The Drum, a green roof serves as both an outdoor classroom and a space for community gardens, seamlessly blending elements of nature, sustainability, and education.
At the heart of its design is "The Drum," an elliptical structure that draws inspiration from African and African-American cultural motifs, representing the union of community and culture - a gathering space reminiscent of the Liberian Palava hut.

With the character of the ‘djembe’ drum, the multifaceted facade is visually captivating from both inside and outside, incorporating materials that create an interplay with solidity and void, transparency and opacity.

The building’s design follows the guiding formula of Co, Ed, Cu, representing community, education, and culture. Conceived as a dynamic and interactive space, it aims to provide the local community with versatile areas for gatherings, meetings, workshops, and educational activities, while also serving as a centerpiece venue for ceremonies and performances.

The Great Room, located within the Drum, is a versatile space surrounded by "walls of meaning." It embodies the center's core principles through its unique blend of sculptural architecture, historical artifacts, and opportunities for community engagement.
  • Sector: Civic + Community
  • Scope: Architecture
  • Civic + Community
  • Virginia Beach, VA
  • 35,188 SF
  • Institutional Unbuilt Finalist, Architizer A+Awards, 2023
  • Certificate of Third Award, Rethinking the Future Architecture Awards, 2023
  • Merit Award, Unbuilt Architecture, AIA Hampton Roads, 2023
  • Award of Excellence for Best Conceptual Project, HRACRE, 2022
Project Team
Jane Cady Rathbone
David Keith
Alec Yuzhbabenko
Design Principal
Christopher M. Charles
Principal/Project Manager
Jeffrey G. Butts, Jr.
Cody Dodd
Webb Management Services, Inc.
Feasibility Study Planner