Thoughts on the National Building Museum

A guy I knew from grad school, (who happens to write the webcomic Nukees) was in town this weekend and wanted me to take him to a ‘museum he hadn’t been to before’. If you have been a DC resident for long enough, I’m sure this has happened to you. There are so many places in DC that we never go to except when we’ve got guests in town. Next time you’ve got guests in town, let me recommend the National Building Museum (401 F St. NW). Here are some tidbits from my visit yesterday…

For a building filled with curators who claim to be experts on what makes a great building, the National Building Museum appears to be the least efficient use of space I’ve ever seen. I’m cool with the idea that maybe I just don’t know a great building design when I see it, but I’d like the curators to explain why having 3/4 the building consist of a single, gigantic, empty room is a good idea.

It is possible to develop a personal collection of over 1800 different kinds of bricks without dying of boredom first. And if you do, a museum curator will take the collection off your hands for you and put it on display.

more after the cut…

Frank Lloyd Wright designed office furniture that is reminiscent of that wheelchair from the episode of Star Trek where that guy was all crippled and could only communicate by blinking a light. And, yes I’ll say it, he was overrated as a designer. (Side note: wouldn’t it be great if there was a supervillain who went around destroying buildings and was named “Frank Lloyd Wrong”? Think about it…)

In the ‘hands on’ build your own brick wall section, if you start lining the bricks up like dominos instead of making a wall out of them, the security guards will glare at you.

Inexplicably, Bartlesville Oklahoma has a skyscraper.

Around 1900, they were going to put a big dock next to the Lincoln Memorial instead of the Memorial Bridge. Considering today’s traffic situation, perhaps going to work via ferry isn’t such a bad idea.

In one small corner of the National Building Museum there is actually an exhibit about the National Building Museum. If you look real close at it and squint, you might just be able to see inside the exhibit and actually spy yourself looking at the exhibit! It’s kinda like standing between two mirror and seeing copies of yourself go off into infinity.

9 Comments so far

  1. wayan (unregistered) on August 14th, 2006 @ 9:31 am

    That “single, gigantic, empty room” in the middle of the National Building Museum is there for a reason – and until the MCI Arena opening, the largest indoor atrium in DC.

    In that room, there were inauguration balls, state events, and all manner of parties back when air conditioning was rare and rainstroms just as common.

    Still today you can rent out the space and its used frequently. Drapped with fancy shindig decorations, its beautiful.

  2. Stephanie (unregistered) on August 14th, 2006 @ 9:32 am

    You should have taken the building tour. That would have explained some of your criticisms. And from a design or use standpoint it’s not always the best idea to jam it full of stuff. God forbid we don’t control some space and let people relax in it.

  3. Bin_round (unregistered) on August 14th, 2006 @ 9:46 am

    The big space is sometimes filled with a life-size exhibit, ie. a real house. Check on-line to see upcoming exhibits.

  4. Jenn L (unregistered) on August 14th, 2006 @ 10:07 am

    I’ve been to events in that “single gigantic empty room” and, like Wayan, can attest to its beauty during those times. It’s also a lovely place to sit and be contemplative during the fury of the work week. Not only that, but it’s stunning architecturally. I wish you had asked a curator or a docent – I’m sure they could’ve explained it to you in more depth.

  5. rosemary (unregistered) on August 14th, 2006 @ 1:18 pm

    I remember going to that museum when I was in elementary school and we got to put together the “house” ourselves. With power tools. Of course, the walls and other assorted panelling were color-coded so we could figure out which went where, but it was awesome.

    I’ll definitely have to go back and revisit it now.

  6. darpino (unregistered) on August 14th, 2006 @ 3:06 pm

    I lived across the street from the NBM for 5 years and looked into the building quite extensively. That large room was usually filled with hundreds of Civil War veterans who would often make the long trip to Washington to claim their snafued and backed up pensions in the 1880s and 1890s. I assume architect Meigs (who fought in the war himself) wanted to give the people who fought to hold our nation together a nice place to wait instead of a bueraucratic hellhole.

  7. Joseph LeBlanc (unregistered) on August 14th, 2006 @ 9:23 pm

    Frank Lloyd Wright overrated? More like Frank Gehry.

  8. Doug (unregistered) on August 14th, 2006 @ 11:47 pm
  9. Sean (unregistered) on August 16th, 2006 @ 10:40 am

    Family and I recently went to the ‘Green House’ exhibit… we were disappointed in the offerings. It was more ikea and less permaculture/sustainable living. But design sells i suppose. My daughter and I ended up wandering around the museum building looking at the architecture. Overall, boring exhibits, beautiful building. There was a HUGE wedding reception being setup in the main room… being a wedding photographer, I would love to shoot there some day! So many nooks, arches and spaces for beautiful portraits.

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