The Abstract Flag

This stunning installation will greet visitors as they enter the Museum from the National Mall. The Abstract Flag will hang above the entrance to the Star-Spangled Banner Gallery, and anchor the second floor central atrium of the Museum. Made of fifteen ribbons, it echoes the original Star-Spangled Banner, and will unmistakably mark the treasured flag’s new home.

These ribbons are comprised of 960 “pixels” of mirrored polycarbonate, which vary in reflectivity by stripe. When front lit, from the skylight above or by artificial light, these pixels reflect the diversity of light and people in the Museum, making a mosaic of colors and effects. When backlit, the Abstract Flag becomes almost transparent like a stage scrim: a faint rainbow of colors issues from its internal iridescent layer. In this mode, the Abstract Flag accentuates the entrance into the Star-Spangled Banner Gallery, and shows off its own lightweight construction.

Skidmore, Owings and Merrill developed the concept of the Abstract Flag after many discussions with the Star-Spangled Banner project team and senior Museum leadership. The structural support system designed by structural engineer Kirk Mettam of Robert Silman Associates, is an almost 40’ long cantilever arrangement of horizontal and vertical vierendeel steel trusses made of small diameter rods. The entire Abstract Flag is held up and out from the rear wall by a 4-pointed “radiating star” bracket on the West side of the central atrium. This bracket also evokes the idea of the Flag being extended out to the Museum public as if by fingertips. The 960 pixels are attached to the backs of the vertical truss members by “slingbacks” – very small metal fasteners which cradle the metal rods.

The geometry of the ribbons is derived from the mathematics of waving flags, a relatively new and vital field of mathematics called the study of “unstable structures.” This modeling and “freezing” of an actual waving flag grounds the design, and keeps it from becoming any one person’s graphic interpretation of a flag.

The Museum needs your help to install the Abstract Flag and to complete its incredible transformation. You can help support the Museum by making a tax-deductible donation.

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Learn More about the Renovation
The Museum closed in 2006 for a major architectural transformation focusing on three areas: architectural enhancements to the museum’s interior, constructing a state-of-the-art gallery for the Star-Spangled Banner and updating the 42-year-old building’s infrastructure (mechanical, electrical, plumbing, lighting, fire and security systems.) It reopened November 21, 2008. Learn more.