Weitzman National Museum of American Jewish History

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Weitzman National Museum of American Jewish History

Two interlocking volumes – one opaque and enigmatic and the other translucent and open – define the design concept both architecturally and metaphorically. A reference to the immigrant experience in America, the project’s formal duality evokes unity and harmony without the sacrifice of identity.

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The design for the National Museum of American Jewish History publicly expresses its mission to connect Jews more closely to their heritage and to inspire in people of all backgrounds a greater appreciation for the diversity of the American Jewish experience and the freedoms to which Americans aspire.

James S. Polshek, Design Partner

Responsive to its prominent site across from Independence Mall, the architectural solution is iconographically appropriate to the historic city fabric as well as publicly expressive of the Museum’s mission. The visual accessibility of the diaphanous glass prism unambiguously conveys a generous welcome to all.

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Contrasting with this translucency is an opaque terra cotta-clad form, which complements adjacent historic structures and is a repository for the Museum’s collections and principal exhibition spaces; its solidity is a metaphor for the strength of Jewish survival and the protection of the freedoms that are fundamental to American history.

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The Museum is arranged on six levels of interactive exhibition space, a changing exhibit gallery, an auditorium and an education center. An eighty-five-foot-high light-filled atrium defines the visitor experience, allowing the museumgoer to readily comprehend the organization of the Museum.

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A spatial and thematic link between core exhibit floors, the atrium is flanked by exhibit spaces. On the west, smaller galleries provide an introduction to each exhibit floor’s topic. At each floor, bridges cross the atrium and connect the introductory galleries to the main galleries. Stairs are the primary connections between the gallery floors.

The museum doesn’t shrink from its high-profile location, with a boldly minimalist palette that still sits sensitively within its historical context.

Julia Galef, The Architect’s Newspaper
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Philadelphia, PA
100,000 GSF
Exhibition Space, Galleries, Conference Rooms, Education Center, Classrooms, Offices, Reference Library, Collections and Exhibition Storage, Museum Shop, Café, Staff Lounge


Ennead Design Team
James S. Polshek, 1930-2022, Joseph Fleischer, Robert Young, Joshua Frankel, Aran Coakley, Matthew Dionne, Erkan Emre, Mazie Huh, Aileen Iverson, Dean Kim, John Lowery, Craig McIlhenny, Maura Rogers, Don Weinreich, Jordan Yamada
Jeff Goldberg/Esto, Barry Halkin/Halkin Photography, Todd Mason/Halkin Photography, Jock Pottle/Esto, Aislinn Weidele/Ennead Architects


  • 2011
    • Derringer, Jaime. "National Museum of American Jewish History by Ennead Architects" (Design Milk, 4/15/2011)
    • Klein, Julia M.. "American Jews’ Story Told in a New Home" (The Wall Street Journal, 1/26/2011)
    • Papadopoulos, Kikos. "National Museum of American Jewish History by Ennead Architects" (World Design News, 4/15/2011)
  • 2010
    • Dribben, Melissa. "National Museum of American Jewish History tells ‘story of America through Jewish eyes" (Philadelphia Inquirer, 11/14/2010)
    • Galef, Julia. "National Jewish Museum Finds New Home in Philly" (The Architect's Newspaper, 9/22/2010)
    • "National Museum of American Jewish History" (Religion & Ethics NewsWeekly, PBS, 11/19/2010)
    • Rothstein, Edward. "Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Identity" (The New York Times, 11/11/2010)
    • Russell, James. "Refined Jewish Museum Shows Up Drab Philadelphia Mall" (Bloomberg, 11/23/2010)
    • Sidman, Fern. "American Jewish History Celebrated in the City of Brotherly Love" (Israel National News, 11/16/2010)
  • 2008
    • Cardno, Catherine A. "Museum Supported by ‘Floating Box’ Bracing System" (Civil Engineering, 7/2008)
    • Hurdle, Jon. "Alongside U.S. History, the Story of Jewish Immigrants" (The New York Times, 1/12/2008)
    • Kelly, Joseph Dennis. "Jewish-American Museum Rising in Philly" (Architectural Record, 1/22/2008)
  • 2005
    • Horn, Patricia. "Jewish Museum to rise at the Mall" (Philadelphia Inquirer, 11/17/2005)