The National Building Museum was a surprising find in DC. The building is an adapted re-use of the former US Pension Bureau Headquarters, a building inspired by two Italian models. The exterior is a red brick semi-replica of the Michelangelo-designed Palazzo Farnese, an imposing palace located in Rome. The interior, on the other hand, boasts an open arcade gallery space inspired by the Palazzo della Cancelleria, a renaissance style palace of the sixteenth century.
This museum is a place where architecture and the built environment are put into perspective rather than simply put on show. Their past exhibitions include topics such as recycling, green houses, the places where we live, New Orleans in the aftermath of Katrina, or design for public spaces. Our first viewing was the Washington: Symbol and City exhibition, a very dense collection of images and texts documenting the architectural and social history of the capital from its conception to the twentieth century. This exhibition raises questions about the effects of urban planning on social well-being and highlights the capacity of design to connect all aspects of everyday life including transportation, housing, commerce, energy, and institutions. In a separate modern gallery space was shown Green Community, an interactive and playful display of sustainable best practices from around the globe. Waste management, land conservation, technologies, mass transit systems were amongst the priority issues at stake. Their award-winning interactive installations successfully engage the viewer to consider sustainability on a personal, global and community level.