Carnegie Mellon University
September 19, 2016

For One Alumna, a Rare Opportunity on the National Mall

For One Alumna, a Rare Opportunity on the National Mall For One Alumna, a Rare Opportunity on the National Mall

When the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History & Culture opens in Washington D.C. this fall, visitors to the capital will have access to the only national museum dedicated exclusively to the African American experience. 

For Brittani Grant (BS, MS ’12), a Project Manager at Clark Construction Group, the opening of the museum on September 24 also will signify the end of her first major building project as a Carnegie Mellon alumna.

Grant joined Clark—one of three general contractors constructing the museum—after college, and has since been helping to manage the project.

Bringing the Patterned Aluminum Panels to Life

The museum—likely the last one to be built on the National Mall—will house more than 36,000 artifacts including photography, clothing and literature from various eras that document African American life, history, and culture. In bringing together what soon will be a fixture of the nation’s capital, Grant has been instrumental in creating one of its most iconic features: the curtain wall system that surrounds the museum.

The system consists of three main components: steel that forms its frame, glass that completely encases the building, and more than 3,500 patterned panels on the outside of the structure that cover the upper floors.

Working on the system has been an endeavor spanning many years that has enabled Grant to travel to places throughout the U.S., and even to Germany. For her, getting the aluminum panels, in particular, fabricated and delivered to the National Mall was an almost three-year-long project, beginning in the summer of 2012 when she participated in initial design meetings as a Clark intern.

After starting at the company full-time in 2013, Grant and the team she worked with went through a number of steps to ensure the panels were exactly what they wanted for the building. With different groups contracted to make the panels outside of Washington, D.C., Grant traveled as far as Washington state and Oregon to make sure the team was getting high-quality materials and that the panels—which are painted to look like bronze—were produced on schedule.

The biggest endeavor in creating the panels, though, was determining their final color. Because the museum is situated on iconic grounds, a number of organizations needed to approve the color, including the Smithsonian, four architects and a number of national agencies.

Grant and her team went through more than 25 colors and 12 full-scale mock-up panels before the color was approved. When the finished panels finally began to arrive at the construction site, they were a present for Grant—literally. She received the first one on her 25th birthday last April. “That was a really strong moment for me,” she said. “Everybody loved it. It was very rewarding to see all that sweat and tears pay off.”

Now, the entire curtain wall system is in place and construction is substantially complete for the opening.

Building Bridges Between CMU and Clark

Not only has Grant helped to lead the construction of the museum while at Clark, but she also has worked to establish strong ties between the company and CMU. After speaking with Grant, Clark began attending CMU’s Technical Opportunities Conference,* through which it offers full-time and internship positions.

Today, the company employs at least a dozen CMU alumni in the Mid-Altantic region, with even more alumni at regional offices.

While at CMU, Grant took several core courses that helped prepare her for her current work including Project Management for Construction, in which she learned fundamentals for managing building projects.

She also took elective courses including International Collaborative Construction Management, through which she worked with fellow engineers from schools in Brazil, Israel and Turkey.

“The most important thing I learned [at CMU] was learning how to learn,” she said. “We’re not always going to be walking into situations knowing everything, but CMU teaches you to know and identify your resources … by putting you in so many different apparatuses, and different circumstances and organizations.”

After Grant finishes her work on the museum, she will move onto a new project with a new team, but she’ll still visit the museum for ages to come.

“It’s been really awesome to get to work on something so monumental and something that is going to last hundreds of years—that I’ll be bringing my family to for generations,” she said.

*This year’s Technical Opportunities Conference will be held in Wiegand Gymnasium and Rangos Ballroom on Sept. 19-21 from 10 am to 5 pm each day.