Throughout the summer, the Great Hall of the grandiose National Building Museum will be transformed into a giant indoor “Lawn” that will be truly a “people’s place,” beckoning visitors to relax in Adirondack chairs and hammocks positioned throughout the landscape.
“Lawn” is the sixth of the D.C. museum’s widely popular and much-anticipated Summer Block Party installations, which have ranged from a beach and ocean of thousands of little transparent balls to a massive iceberg that visitors could view from both above and below. Conceived and designed by the LAB of the Rockwell Group architecture and design firm and brought to life by museum staff led by master carpenter Chris Maclay, the “Lawn” is the product of a collaboration of trailblazing innovation and impressive construction talent. Five tractor-trailers of scaffolding were transported to the museum to create the 24-foot sloping landscape and the viewing tower.
Visitors can view the terrain and joyful counterparts 30 feet below, from a perch where they can have a first-ever view of the capitals of the museum’s 75-foot-tall Corinthian columns. They will see families lolling on provided custom-made sky-themed picnic blankets as well as hammocks above the synthetic-turf lawn. If the hammock-hangers seem to have a dreamy smile on their faces, it may be in response to one of the installation’s hallmark innovative features. Tucked away on each of the 19 hammocks is a speaker that plays the recorded summer musings and special memories of a spectrum of beloved figures from the entertainment and sports worlds, including Bette Midler, Whoopi Goldberg, Venus Williams, Norman Lear and Joel Grey. In addition, 50 speakers are embedded throughout the exhibit, creating ambient summer sounds, such as a dog barking, children laughing, the chimes of an ice-cream truck and even rolling thunder in the distance.
“There are also speakers underneath the turf, so if you’re standing in the right spot, you can hear bees buzzing in the afternoons and frogs and crickets chirping in the evening,” said spokesperson Cathy Frankel. “Those sounds may elicit stories and memories told by parents and grandparents, who are magically whisked back to their childhoods. The emergence of those memories is exactly the intent of the designers of this installation—to bring a sense of connection among people. Generations within a family will be sharing precious moments of yesteryear and creating new memories, and I often see kids who clearly did not come together or are from different families who end up playing together.”
Throughout the summer, the museum will also provide a variety of lawn games, such as cornhole, and guests of all ages are welcome to roll down that green hillside—a timeless delight. Best of all, the “Lawn” is not weather-dependent, and the play will go on rain or shine—in a comfortable 72-degree environment, regardless of what heat wave may be descending on us.
The “Lawn” installation is especially meaningful in a day where, often, a myopic focus on individual technological devices tend to put people in separate worlds even when they are sitting side by side. In contrast, the designers of the Rockwell Group are tapping the potential of current technology to produce a connecting experience of the natural wonders of summertime, such as an augmented reality game in which children and adults can chase, collect and release fireflies in the museum space. (Think Pokémon Go!)
In addition to the ongoing features, the museum offers a variety of “Lawn”-related events, including Late Night Wednesdays, featuring food and beverages for purchase and tunes from DJ Henrietta Stacks; Sunday morning yoga sessions; and big-screen movie nights on Thursdays, which will show such classics as “My Girl,” “The Goonies,” “Homeward Bound,” “Edward Scissorhands” and “Grease.”
The 1,200-plus attendance on the installation’s opening day signals that the museum has, once again, scored in creating a popular summer delight for families.
“Lawn” admission includes access to the museum’s ongoing exhibits. These include “Play, Work, Build,” where children and adults alike can unleash their creativity with building blocks—small, big and virtual—and the Building Zone where ages 2-6 can have a hands-on experience of building through play and explore opportunities for dress-up and exploration of a life-size play house. In addition, families can view a new exhibition, “Animals, Collected,” which features never-before-shown objects from the museum’s collection that highlight architectural artifacts depicting animals—from real to mythological, from lions to dragons.