The National Building Museum’s Hall Brings Summer Indoors

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There is an ambiance of outdoors at the Great Hall of the National Building Museum. The installation named “Lawn” covers the hall. From the verdant hills to the Adirondack chairs, the Great Hall feels like an outdoor setting. Spending time here on private Washington DC tours is a bit like being in a park without really venturing out. The billowing clouds and bird chirps are not even the real deal. The sixth installation in the Summer Block Party annual series of installations, “Lawn”, digitally repurposes those summertime delights, rooting a familiar sight in unfamiliar territory.

Manmade turf slopes upward through a scaffolding superstructure at the hall. It also has a mirrored cylindrical and cavernous piece, being made to resemble a fountain, the kind of which you would see in a park. Blue light bends in this tunnel of mirrors, mimicking a fountain in appearance.

Many speakers embedded right through the display make an ambient soundscape of bouncing basketballs, rolling thunder, and dog barks. The blue cornhole boards, chair pillows, and blankets have an airy blue color palette in common, offsetting the lack of an azure sky above. Suspended hammocks, which are eggshell-blue in color and outfitted with speakers, graze the blades of grass below. These speakers emit sounds of summer and stories read by familiar voices such as Norman Lear, Bette Midler, and Beanie Feldstein. These prerecorded summertime anecdotes from special guests are fun to listen to.

Whoopi Goldberg’s disembodied voice murmurs, “I’m giving you my movie voice. Sit back and appreciate it.”

The “LAB at Rockwell Group” designed the installation, which serves as the setting for the annual block party of the museum. If previous summers are anything to go by, then as many as eighty-thousand visitors will appreciate the “Lawn” as Whoopi Goldberg says.

In recent years, this museum’s large-scale interactive installations at the Great Hall have turned into one of its biggest annual draws and a quirky Washington DC tradition. The “Lawn” opened on July 04, 2019, and will be at the Great Hall through September 02, 2019. The opening day of the installation and the closing day are federal holidays, which have special significance to the nation: the Independence Day, and the Labor Day.

LAB at Rockwell Group seeks to engineer fresh ways for built settings to tell tales and engage our senses. The firm often uses a wide range of interactive technologies, which include virtual reality and motion graphics. With this installation, the firm’s objective is playing with the differences between public and private, old and new. What LAB at Rockwell Group has fashioned is a hybrid communal area, which reinterprets our summer iconography imaginatively.

The founder of the group and the designer of the installation, David Rockwell spoke about the significance of making places which are also “empathetic to people.” David Rockwell compared the technology behind his exhibitions to storytelling, memory-building, and scenic design in the shared service of them.

“I was looking at how technology could engage people,” said Rockwell while adding, “not separate them from their environment.”

Giving more than enough space to lay back, “Lawn” enshrines two further summer virtues: daydreaming and leisure. David Rockwell envisions the green space serving a meditative purpose, dubbing the variety of seating options as “thought-starters.”

“Lawn” almost fills the whole Great Hall. The highest point of the installation, called “The Porch”, is around 17 meters off the ground, providing visitors with an almost eye-level sight of the capitals of Corinthian pillars. At that height, it is easy to confuse gold-washed leaves for natural foliage.

There was only a month’s time for the builders to erect the whole installation. The project involved 500 plywood sheets and scaffolding worth of five tractor-trailers. Transporting the rolls to use for the cloudscape rug, marking the entrance to this hall, needed a motor to haul the 900-pound bundles. The higher they constructed, the more painstaking “Lawn” became, as per the National Building Museum’s master carpenter, Chris Maclay, turning the project into a race against time.

“This is the biggest one we’ve done so far,” said Maclay, “and in terms of time frame, this has been more a crunch than any other year.”

Children seem to be having a blast at the hall, running around the swimming pool, lobbing beanbags, and tumbling down the raised areas of land. The group also developed a family-friendly application, also titled “Lawn”, which opens to an AR game where fireflies move across the screen. Tapping on a critter turns fireflies into a jar, where it is possible to “release” these insects with one more tap.

Besides, “Lawn” serves as the staging place for a range of summertime activities including dancing, yoga sessions, concerts, and movie nights.

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