The National Museum of the United States Army in Fort Belvoir, Virginia, the first and only museum to trace the entire history of the US Army, has opened its doors to the public. Designed by architecture firm Skidmore, Owings & Merrill (SOM), the National Museum was opened on Veterans Day this year.

Situated on an 84-acre site at the Fort Belvoir Military Installation, the museum consists of a series of five pavilions with the entire facade clad in a grid of laser-cut stainless steel panels, which reflect the natural surroundings to lend a continuously changing character to the building throughout the day as well as across seasons. Recessed glass panels on the corner of each pavilion alternate with painted aluminium fins to add a touch of dynamism to the building’s facade.

Spread across an area of 17,187sqm, the museum is organised into five pavilions according to specific interior functions. Natural materials from stone floors to American white oak and ash finishes have been used generously in the interiors. The pavilions are connected by glazed thresholds with timber fins to indicate transitions between spaces while also offering views to the beautiful natural surrounds.

The museum opens into a grand lobby, which has been designed to flexibly transform into a 460-seat banquet hall to host events. Stainless steel pylons recount individual soldier stories as they lead visitors from the promenade through the glazed entrance and into the exhibition hall. The coffered ceiling in the lobby features 22 rows of translucent, laminated glass panels that match the colours of historic campaign streamers of the US Army. A massive black granite honour wall lists every campaign from the Army's history, and a Department of the Army emblem is inscribed on the lobby's terrazzo floor.

Additionally, the ground floor consists of retail spaces, a cafe, the first of three landscaped terraces, exhibition spaces, a 300-degree theatre to seat up to 122 people for digital screenings, and a monumental staircase that leads to the second floor, which accommodates offices and more gallery space. The third level houses the Veterans’ Hall, which provides additional event space and features a coffered ceiling as well as sustainably sourced American white oak and ash.

The Veterans’ Hall connects to the Medal of Honor Garden, the highlight of which is a 3m tall black granite wall engraved with the names of all the recipients of the Medal of Honor, the US Army's most prestigious decoration.

Sustainable design strategies such as increased insulation, improved glazing, high-efficiency LED lighting, automatic daylighting controls and occupancy sensors, and a green roof have helped the museum earn the LEED Silver certification.

According to the architects at SOM, the museum focuses on the story of the individual soldier, and draws inspiration from three core ideals: discipline, modesty, and rigour. Future phases of the museum's development will include a quiet memorial garden, a parade field and grandstand, and an Army Trail with interpretive stations.

Photography: Dave Burk | SOM