Washington, D.C. is a town that’s jam-packed with grand spaces, but none seems to take advantage of them like the Great Hall at the National Building Museum.
There, every summer for the past four years, world-famous architects have been invited to create experiential designs for all to enjoy.
First came Bjarke Ingels. Then Snarkitecture. Last year it was James Corner Field Operations.
This year, it’s Jeanne Gang’s Studio Gang. They’ve constructed something they call “Hive” in the Great Hall. Built of 2,700 cardboard tubes for pouring concrete columns, they’re notched and stacked up 20, 27 and 50 feet tall to form an enormous, beehive-like structure.
“It’s a spectacle to a degree, in a spectacular building,” says Cathy Frankel, vice president of exhibitions and collections at the museum. “It’s a very strange contemporary structure in our very classical building.”
And it offers more than fantastic visual qualities to the curious visitor. People can get a subtle earful, too. “When Jeanne and her team started working on it, they realized that sound is important,” she says. “By creating smaller, more intimate spaces, the sound bounces off the tubes and absorbs too – people can come in and experience the sound.”
Its magenta interior and silver exterior also produce an unforgettable building experience. “People don’t look up much anymore, but here you have to think about the process of creating spaces,” she says. “People can see how it was constructed and think about it and take it out into the world with them.”
It may seem Pantheon-like, but it was created quickly, with a modest budget and a three-week timeframe. Still, it amazes – and lends itself to social media, a common goal for most museums today. “In an Instagram age, it’s very Instagram-able – you can send a message about what we do and what we have to offer, which is a big deal with marketing,” she says. “We’re lucky to have this great building – very few museums in D.C. have this, but we’re nimble and we can do these things.”
And being nimble in a Great Hall is a nifty feat.
For more, go here.
J. Michael Welton writes about architecture, art and design for national and international publications, and is architecture critic for The News & Observer in Raleigh, N.C. He edits a digital design magazine at www.architectsandartisans.com,, where portions of this column first appeared, and is the author of “Drawing from Practice: Architects and the Meaning of Freehand“ (Routledge: 2015). He can be reached at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter at: @mikewelton