Press Releases April 14, 2023

Artistic Ideas Unveiled for New National Museum of the U.S. Navy

Perkins&Will is one of five finalists in the nationwide Artistic Ideas Competition. The firm’s concept celebrates the courage, strength, and resilience of the Navy, inviting visitors on a highly interactive, experiential journey through the Navy’s past, present, and future.
Aerial rendering of the National Museum of the U.S. Navy designed by Perkins&Will


WASHINGTON, D.C.—Five design proposals for the new National Museum of the U.S. Navy (NMUSN), including concept art by global architecture and design firm Perkins&Will, have been made public. The finalists were invited earlier this year to participate in an Artistic Ideas Competition led by the Naval History and Heritage Command. Perkins&Will’s concepts are inspired by the Navy’s core values and attributes—strength, commitment, integrity, courage, honor, and initiative—and are informed by research, including interviews with active and veteran U.S. Navy sailors.  

“Our proposed ideas emphasize the U.S. Navy’s rich legacy of victory, valor, and sacrifice, with a focus on remembering, honoring, and preserving history. This museum will be an opportunity to reflect on, honor, and celebrate the Navy’s culture and achievements,” says Zena Howard, cultural and civic practice chair at Perkins&Will and managing principal for the competition team. “Expressing this powerful story will require a throughline from tradition to future, from veterans to modern-day sailors.” 

The artistic vision was led largely by award-winning architect Ralph Johnson, the designer of the U.S. Coast Guard Headquarters on the St. Elizabeths’ National Historic Landmark Campus in Washington, D.C. and the Intrepid Sea, Air & Space Museum in New York City.  

“Our concept places visitors at the intersection of the three elemental forces—land, sea, and air—that shape the U.S. Navy,” says Johnson, who is also Perkins&Will’s global design director. “It’s a tangible expression of the Navy’s honor, courage, and commitment.” 


The building’s sail-like shapes and landscape conjure a fleet of vessels that skim the ocean’s surface, representing strength and establishing a clear connection to sea, land, and air.


A ceremonial courtyard welcomes visitors with a sense of honor.


The museum’s main entrance pays homage to the commitment of every sailor as they transition from civilian life to naval duty: Visitors cross a gangway over water to enter the “vessel,” which is full of treasured stories and experiences.


The museum’s atrium recalls the engineering ingenuity of the hull of a ship—a nod to the Navy’s integrity.

Conceptual rendering of museum atrium
Cross-section diagram of navy museum concept

The Subsurface, Surface, Expedition, Aviation, and Space (SSEAS) gallery, a signature attraction, invites visitors on a technological odyssey in which they explore naval acts of courage, fortitude, and conviction. A gently sloping walkway spirals around an interactive digital globe, taking visitors through immersive experiences beginning “below the sea” and ascending “into outer space.” A “Wall of Heroes” honors the personal stories of significant figures in naval history, and “story pods” simulate real-life activities, like commanding a naval ship or going on underwater archaeological expeditions.  


Finally, “macro artifacts,” or large-scale historical relics, are displayed in dramatic context so visitors experience them from multiple perspectives, representing the Navy’s initiative. The Constitution Fighting Top, for example—an observation platform near the top of the mast of the USS Constitution, the oldest commissioned ship in the U.S. Navy—rises through the floor of an atrium space, allowing visitors to engage with it at different heights and angles. Meanwhile, a life-size outline of the USS Constitution’s deck on the museum’s floor allows visitors to imagine what it might have been like to be on an ocean voyage. Other macro artifacts include a helicopter landing on the roof, a Swift boat moving through a marsh, a Naval airplane in flight, a submarine emerging from water, and a WWII fighter aircraft that appears to soar over the sea. 

Submarine exhibit in concept for navy museum
“It’s a great honor and privilege to have been invited to submit our artistic ideas for the National Museum of the U.S. Navy,” says Perkins&Will CEO Phil Harrison. “This is an incredible opportunity to celebrate and memorialize the valor of our nation’s naval heroes, and I believe our concepts successfully accomplish that.”

To learn more about Perkins&Will’s NMUSN artistic ideas submission, and to meet the full team, visit

Design Team

Zena Howard – Managing Principal

Ralph Johnson – Project Designer

Todd Snapp – Designer

Carl Knutson – Senior Project Architect

Leo Alvarez – Landscape Architect

Chris Brandon – Interior Architect & Underwater Archaeologist

Eric Mika – Exhibit Design, Local Projects

Jenny Sharp – Exhibit Design, Local Projects

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