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Traditional architecture exhibitions are often boring and dense—just how many scale models, axonometric drawings, and jargon-stuffed manifestoes can one person endure? But over the last few years, the National Building Museum, in Washington, D.C., has taken a decidedly different tack with blockbuster installations that include minigolf, ball pits, and mazes—sneaking a lesson or two about the built environment in between.
“Everyone knows what an art museum is, but the largest challenge we have is that nobody knows what a building museum is,” says Chase Rynd, the museum’s executive director. “Since we’re the only ‘building’ museum, we have to educate people on what we do.”
Cathy Crane Frankel, the museum’s vice president for exhibitions and collections, leads the curatorial program and is tasked with communicating the world of architecture to museumgoers. “While we are a museum about buildings and the built world, we can’t show things at full scale,” she says. “What we do differently than other museums who exhibit architecture is we talk more about process and how people use the spaces. By seeing the installations, visitors understand how they fit in with the built world.”
And in doing so, Frankel and her team have created a series mega-hit installations inside the museum, attracting international attention and countless visitors. […]