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Celebrated annually on June 19th in the United States, Juneteenth marks the enforcement of the Emancipation Proclamation and the liberation of the remainder of the enslaved in Texas and throughout the newly reformed United States after the Civil War. The National Juneteenth Museum, a testament to this holiday, is scheduled to open in 2026 in Fort Worth, Texas. It will be an epicenter for celebration, education, and preserving Juneteenth history. With 10,000 square feet of immersive exhibit galleries, a 250-seat theater, a business incubator, and more, it will also offer a forum for discussions about freedom. It will have deep cultural significance for the African American community and the entire nation.

Squint/Opera, in collaboration with Bjarke Ingels Group (BIG), was chosen to communicate the vision of the National Juneteenth Museum and champion the museum’s fundraising efforts. Our film celebrates the origins of Juneteenth and how it became recognized as a federal holiday thanks to the efforts of Dr. Opal Lee. The film aims to inspire potential funders by highlighting the cultural and community value the museum will bring to the Historic Southside of Fort Worth — and the nation as a whole.

Matt Quinn sat down with Douglass Alligood, Partner at Bjarke Ingels Group, to learn more about creating museums with deep cultural impact.

Matt Quinn: How did you approach designing the National Juneteenth Museum? 

Douglass Alligood: In many ways, we approached it not too differently from how we’d approach any other project. We studied the neighborhood’s demographics, including its history and the economic mobility of its residents, and we really took the time to understand the community’s goals and needs. 

From there, we tried to figure out what that community’s future might look like. Our challenge was understanding how this museum could have a local, national, and lasting impact that will still resonate fifty years from now.

The one thing we did differently for the Juneteenth Museum was to make a point of having an open dialogue in which any question was welcome. Our teammates come from all over the world; some had no reference point for what Juneteenth is about. Sharing knowledge and ensuring we could talk openly about the holiday’s history was crucial for collaboration.

MQ: The museum seeks to revitalize the Historic Southside neighborhood of Fort Worth. Can you elaborate on how the architectural choices reflect this goal and how you collaborated with the community during the design process?

DA: In our sessions with the community, they described certain things they didn’t want — tall buildings, massive footprints — as well as things they did — character, a connection to the vernacular, and spaces that were physically welcoming to community members. They wanted a sense of connection and unencumbered access to the gardens, yards, and certain museum activities.

Our response was to design the black box theater with one wall that completely opens so that the community can hold indoor or outdoor performances. We also intend to designate certain areas for more active community events like the annual Juneteenth celebration and other areas for quiet reflection.

For this project, it was important to go beyond the data about the neighborhood. For example, just because the numbers and charts say certain things about the income or educational attainment of a place doesn’t mean it’s a bad neighborhood. The residents will let you know what’s exceptional about the neighborhood, and it’s always important for us to understand it from their perspective and with their history in mind. The people of the Historic Southside didn’t want to be stuck in a historical recreation of the past; they wanted the neighborhood to continue to thrive and attract more families and young people. They also wanted to preserve its character while still allowing the community to grow and adapt for the future.

MQ: The museum’s design includes a courtyard shaped like a twelve-pointed or nova star, which signifies the twelve freedoms gained after slavery. Can you delve deeper into the symbolism behind this architectural element and how it connects to the narrative of Juneteenth?

DA: We knew we wanted to avoid overwhelming the visitor with overt symbolism. Even though the visual effect of the twelve-pointed star is pretty obvious if you’re standing in a certain part of the museum, its meaning—that connection to the twelve freedoms—is not obvious. We also used a number of more subtle symbols, such as a broken chain, to suggest important ideas without being too literal.

As a firm, Bjarke Ingels Group is known for something called formgiving. It’s about giving shape to the world we want to inhabit in the future, and it’s something that has to be considered on multiple levels. For example, there’s the macro scale, with design elements that can speak to you at a distance (like the star-shaped courtyard), and then there’s the human scale, where you get up close to the building and see its other elements. It’s always important to consider a design’s impact on its visitors and its neighborhood, but it’s even more important for a project as significant as a national museum.

MQ: You starred in our film to communicate the vision for the National Juneteenth Museum. How was that? How do you feel these films impact the projects you work on?

DA: The film was incredibly effective at explaining in four minutes something that normally takes a lot of time to get across. It was so succinctly and clearly put together that it’s a great resource for understanding what Juneteenth is about and what we’re trying to achieve with the museum.

Our experiences on other projects taught us that films like Squint’s can help us better connect the vision with potential outcomes. The medium is really impactful. In connecting elements like the voiceover, the key points, and the visual walkthrough, you can see something you haven’t seen in hundreds of PowerPoint presentations. You rarely get the opportunity to do something like hear the client describe the project in their own words or hear the vision from Dr. Opal Lee herself as she’s looking at the model.

Watch the film here

The film was incredibly effective at explaining in four minutes something that normally takes a lot of time to get across. It was so succinctly and clearly put together that it’s a great resource for understanding what Juneteenth is about and what we’re trying to achieve with the museum.

Douglass Alligood

MQ: Our film mentions the museum’s program. Can you elaborate on the different imagined exhibition spaces within the museum and how they’ll cater to various visitor experiences?

DA: One of the directives that came out of our client and community conversations was to create spaces that are very flexible. So, the black box theater could be used as a pre-event space one day, an exhibition space another day, and a community gallery the following week.

It comes down to the difference between program and programming. Simply put, the program is the name of the space, while the programming is what you do in that space. By being flexible with the program, we’ve allowed for a broader range of programming.

Within the museum, we’ve designed educational spaces, but they’re not single-use classrooms. Instead, spaces like the business incubator and even the food hall can be used for educational programs, exhibitions, and more. For example, the maker space can accommodate work like upholstery, furniture making, and textiles, not just for people taking a class but also for someone starting a small business. The food hall can host classes in its shared kitchens, and the Juneteenth Plaza will be both an inviting space for the public and a parade venue a few times a year.

MQ: The National Juneteenth Museum is a pioneering project. How do you see this design influencing the development of future museums dedicated to African American history and culture?

DA: The variety and flexibility of the museum’s programming will continue to resonate in the future. This museum isn’t a single-purpose place where you go at certain hours to walk around in austere spaces. We’ll have some of those, but the different spaces are meant to be activated at different times. It’s also not on a museum row, so it doesn’t feel like some separate destination you have to travel to; it’s in a historic Black neighborhood and will serve as a travel destination for the edification of everyone.

MQ: Dr. Opal Lee is central to the museum’s story. As a trailblazer who gained national attention at the age of 89 with her 1,400-mile trek from Fort Worth to Washington, DC, she successfully petitioned for the recognition of Juneteenth as a national holiday. What was it like to work with her?

DA: It was amazing. She’s incredibly charismatic and inspiring, but she’s also part of what makes it all work. She’s so funny that you can’t help but enjoy yourself, and all the while, she’s encouraging you and imploring you to really think beyond yourself. Every now and then, the client will share a video of her at a town hall meeting. She’s waving the drawings around, and she’s extremely happy about it. Just the joy she expresses is fantastic to see.

MQ: As a Black architect, how has designing the National Juneteenth Museum impacted you personally and professionally?

DA: On a personal level, as an architect, it’s been a great experience to make something meaningful to the Black community that has historic meaning for my country. What’s more, on both my teams for this project, we had conversations that pushed me to reach deeper as an architect, designer, and person. You want the project to resonate for decades, not just make a quick impression and then be forgotten.

President Joe Biden, joined by Vice President Kamala Harris, lawmakers and guests, signs the Juneteenth National Independence Day Act Bill on Thursday, June 17, 2021, in the East Room of the White House. (Official White House Photo by Chandler West)

SO: Construction is set for 2025. What excites you the most about seeing the National Juneteenth Museum come to life?

DA: First, I’d love to walk in there with Dr. Opal Lee. From the way I’ve seen her react to the architectural renderings and the Squint/Opera film, I’d love to see that in real life when the museum opens. That would be the most exciting part.

The other thing is seeing whether this has the positive impact on the community that we’re hoping for. Down the road, I’d like to walk through the museum with residents, hear what they love—even what they don’t—and balance some of that short-term gratification with the long-term impact. Ultimately, we want to see that the museum helps the residents and brings lasting investments into the neighborhood.

You can learn more about the National Juneteenth Museum here.

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Written by

Matt Quinn

Commercial Director

Matt works between our New York and London studios where he leads on Squint/Opera’s overall commercial strategy and looks for new opportunities for Squint in the US. Prior to his move to NYC, Matt spent a decade running his own design studio in London working on major projects within real estate, architecture and culture. …