Although the National Building Museum has a stellar reputation in the design world, the public, especially the local communities, did not feel welcome. They did not understand the design of the built environment, from its more intimate aspects of daily life to the resonance of global issues related to natural resources and climate. The museum’s educational mission talking to the significance of design was not being communicated effectively.
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Global Future Design Awards 2021
Welcome Galleries, National Building Museum
Public Building Interior Built
Wendy Evans Joseph
Wendy Evans Joseph, Monica Coghlan, Jose Luis Vidalon, Shuo Yang, Shriya Sanil, Cassandra Gerardo
National Building Museum, Washington DC
©Yassine El Mansouri
In tandem with the loss of effective engagement, on a physical level, the museum’s 15-story, expansive, historical atrium is disorienting. Its radially symmetrical plan makes it hard for visitors to find their way to ticketing and, ultimately, the upper-level galleries.
Our project for a new Orientation Center is now the first stop on a visitor’s journey. The three galleries provide a soul, a central driving spirit for the institution. The design team collaborated with the National Building Museum to develop content, the specific stories that illuminate design challenges, and the overall conceptual framework. As architects, our knowledge of construction, planning, and landscape set up the design relationship between storytelling and physical design. This curatorial thinking embraced our passion for providing education about sustainability.
There are three galleries (total of 3000SF) that comprise the Orientation Center. Each gallery conveys an aspect of the built environment and its makers. The story includes professionals and the public as partners in owning how humanity affects the earth and how all living things are, in turn, affected by those choices.
Gallery1: This first space houses a monumental display of the museum’s collections. Ranging from toys to instruments of measure, architectural drawings, and models to ephemera, the diversity of elements reminds us that we are all creators; we have an innate sense of making. The gallery also houses a ticket and information station.
Gallery 2: Here, we examine constructed landscapes, infrastructure, urban centers, and places for gathering. We discuss urban issues and their effect on human health, ways of living, and working. A large table at the center of the space utilizes a series of city skylines (to scale) that act as a bar graph relating to themes. The colors (changing on a passive loop via a touch station) code to housing, transportation, resiliency, etc., and are programmed to show where progress is being made.
Gallery 3: The digitally fabricated panels display a diversity of façade materials at one-to-one scale. Small monitors show firsthand accounts from designers as to what inspires them and how they make material choices. Place, context, use, and site are embodied under a speckled paint that coats all components. The texture of the panels is both authentic and abstract, encouraging people to think broadly about what they see around themselves.
Taken together, these spaces are the beginning of a visit that will illustrate the impact of our built environment, pollution, waste, contaminated water, and other challenges on the future of life on earth. We hope everyone will become an active participant in improving our environment.
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