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After a covid induced pause, the National Building Museum is back open! If you haven’t been to this DC gem recently, it is definitely worth a (re)visit. There is a new Executive Director, Aileen Fuchs, who is building a new future for the museum with big impact. She invited us to come meet her, chat about her plans to deepen the museum’s impact and invited us to experience the changes already taking place at the Museum.
Who is Aileen Fuchs?
In addition to her impressive professional experience, Aileen Fuchs sees the world through the lens of a mother. She is like so many of us moms, multitasking, picking her battles, and simultaneously meeting short and long term goals.
Many parents have come through the past year acutely intune with how we shape our world and what it will look like for our children. As she raises her 5 year old twins, she is also thinking about the social justice issues at the forefront of our society.
As the National Building Museum’s new Executive Director, she sees that the building and the organization is a gathering place for families to explore, learn, play and impact the world around us.
Her passion and excitement is infectious. So join me in welcoming Aileen and her family to DC and join her on her mission to create a multigenerational, multicultural, socially conscious, thought leadership platform to serve local families and tourists.
What’s on at the National Building Museum?
I don’t know if my kids were just too young for the National Building Museum before or if the exhibits have gotten much better, but full disclosure we used to visit only for the Play Work Build and the Great Hall. We walked through some of the exhibits, but we didn’t ever stay in them long. That has all changed.
The new Visitor Center is a great way to start your visit. It is more than a place to buy tickets and ask questions. The new Visitor Center has a beautiful display of objects from their extensive collection and an immersive exhibition that acts as an intro to the museum’s mission and subject matter.
The immersive exhibition spans 2 rooms, introducing the complex interactions between humans and our built environment, as well as the basics of building materials. These multimedia exhibitions provided real life examples of how the built environment has the power to shape our lives, our communities and our futures. We all loved exploring these exhibits.
The 2021 Summer Block Party includes a wooden maze filled with books, a hand-built cathedral truss and public programs. The wooden maze is right outside the Visitor Center in the Great Hall and a scavenger hunt guide is included as part of every exhibition ticket. The maze is fun for kids who are too young for the scavenger hunt as well. We made our own hunts for our youngest and everyone had fun creating and following the clues.
The hugely popular Play Work Build exhibition just reopened (though it is still operating in a limited capacity due to COVID) and we still love it. Timed passes for Play Work Build are included in your admission, and are available at the admission desk when you pick up your wristbands. You get one hour in the play area and the blocks and surfaces are sanitized regularly.
The exhibit includes a world-class Architectural Toy Collection and a hands-on block play area. The blue foam blocks are a medium for exploring the technical and creative side of building. Our girls are older now, but are still as engaged. If anything, they are more capable and creative than before which makes the area even more fun.
Another exhibit our kids loved was the ongoing House & Home. This exhibit challenges ideas about what it means to live at home in America, but the huge doll houses were well received.
Our youngest really loved the Animals, Collected exhibit. She enjoyed the Animal Scavenger Hunt and has since started pointing out animals and details in other buildings. Our older two enjoyed the Justice is Beauty exhibit with examples from across the world of how design can, and should, improve people’s lives. The exhibit sparked some interesting conversations and had us all thinking about humanity of our built world and how design influences it.
The Gun Violence Memorial Project is a tribute to the thousands of lives lost to gun violence in America. While some families may decide to skip this exhibit with their children, we had a conversation with our kids and decided to visit it together as a family. It is heavy. There is no way around the loss, sadness and grief.
There are four houses and each is built of 700 glass bricks, a reference to the number of people in the U.S. killed by guns every week. The glass bricks are filled with remembrance objects donated by immediate family members of loved ones taken by gun violence. When I tell you it is heartbreaking, that doesn’t begin to describe it.
We appreciate how this exhibit illustrated to our children the scale of gun violence in America. These large numbers can be too abstract for them sometimes and these realities that seem so alien can become more understandable when they see the pictures and realize that they have common interests or are the same age. These are difficult truths to tell our kids, but we try to be honest (age appropriate) and hopeful.
The Alan Karchmer exhibit showcases the photographer’s portfolio of architecture pictures. Our kids enjoyed seeing the pictures and all had favorites, but did not spend long in this exhibit.
There is a Documenting Crossroads Series by Camilo Jose´ Vergara online only that documents how the pandemic is affecting people in poor, segregated communities. You can find out more about the series on the National Building Museum website.
During these uncertain times it is nice to have many options for enjoying the National Building Museum onsite and off. To check out programs with the National Building Museum check the museum’s calendar and social media.
How to visit the National Building Museum?
The National Building Museum is currently only operating on Friday-Sunday hours – from 11 AM-4 PM each day due to COVID. Due to the rapid changes in policies and restrictions we recommend that you check the National Building Museum website for updates before visiting.
Tickets for the National Building Museum are on sale in the visitor center when the museum is open, but advance-purchase tickets are suggested. Tickets are $10 for Adult, $7 for Youth (ages 3-17), Student with ID and Seniors (ages 60+).Visits to the Great Hall, the Museum Shop, and Gun Violence Memorial Project are FREE.
The street address is: 401 F Street NW Washington, DC 20001 with public entrances are on F Street NW, directly across from the Metro entrance; 5th Street NW; and G Street NW. Accessibility entrances are on G and 4th Streets. The National Building Museum is 4 blocks from the National Mall and accessible via Metro at Judiciary Square (Red Line) and Gallery Place-Chinatown (Red/Yellow/Green Lines).