While the National Building Museum in Washington, D.C. may not be transforming its soaring Great Hall into a beach, a hammock-equipped open lawn, or a head-scratching plywood labyrinth this year, it is back in warm weather celebratory mode for the 2021 edition of its Summer Block Party series. It will just be minus the massive, immersive installations that normally anchor the annual summertime exhibition.
(Last year’s Summer Block Party, scrapped due to the pandemic, would have seen an Elizabethan stage be erected in the Great Hall for the Shakespeare’s Playhouse exhibition.)
Realizing that museum-goers are still slowly easing back into public life and may not be ready to cope with large indoor crowds or want to dive into an ersatz mini-ocean filled with translucent plastic balls (a popular diversion during two past Summer Block Parties helmed by Snarkitecture), the National Building Museum has organized a post-pandemic event that will bring people together but at a more intimate scale.
That said, one of the biggest draws of past Summer Block Party events was that it offered locals and visitors alike a singular, climate-controlled place to cool off indoors during the unforgivably swampy D.C. summers. That’s still an option as the recently restored Great Hall will be home to three new installations that will join the museum’s special and permanent exhibitions: Foon Sham’s The Maze of Knowledge, a 26-square-foot labyrinth constructed from wooden blocks and embedded with dozens of books; the Notre Dame Truss Project, a Handshouse Studio-headed initiative launched in partnership with the National Park Service, the School of Architecture and Planning at Catholic University, and others, in which a traditional timber-framed truss will be erected to the exact specifications of Paris’ fire-ravaged Notre Dame Cathedral in the southeast corner of the Great Hall, and MASS Design Group’s The Lo-Fab Pavilion, an experimental temporary structure, a section of which was erected for the ongoing exhibition Justice is Beauty: The Work of MASS Design Group. These three installations will be on view for varying times across the summer, so check the museum’s website before you head out.
As the name of this year’s Summer Block Party, Inside Out, relays, the seasonal exhibition has also been partially moved outdoors and, thanks to a partnership with the DowntownDC BID, will feature two major new additions held on the museum’s West Lawn at Judiciary Square. This includes a series of interactive lawn artworks from D.C. visual artist and muralist Lisa Marie Thalhammer that kicks off with Equilateral Network. As described by the museum in a press release, this ephemeral, socially distanced artwork is comprised of pink triangles and walking paths and takes its inspiration from Pierre Charles L’Enfant’s use of sacred geometry in his 1791 plan for the nation’s capital city. “The use of colors is also important, as rainbow spectrums and pink triangles are both historic symbols of identity and gay-rights activism, and the artwork was completed at the start of June, which is LGBTQ Pride Month,” detailed the museum. It will be touched up twice through the end of this month.
What’s more, the museum is playing host to the fourth annual DowntownDC Summer Flicks–Can I Kick It?, a free outdoor movie series produced by the BID with local DJ collective Shaolin Jazz. This year’s science fiction-focused theme is “The Future” and will feature weekly Tuesday night screenings (Starship Troopers, Tron: Legacy, and Mad Max: Fury Road are among the upcoming films) with each scored with an original music soundtrack of hip-hop, soul, and more mixed by rotating guest DJs. Screenings begin at sunset, with the series concluding on July 27.
“It is a treat for the Museum to be able to offer D.C. residents and visitors a variety of experiences this summer that fulfill our mission in many ways, from amazing architecture and engineering installations to engaging educational programs to partnerships with local organizations, artists, and designers,” said Aileen Fuchs, who took over as president and executive director of the museum in March following the retirement of longtime executive director Chase Rynd.
The National Building Museum reopened to the public on April 9 after being shuttered since December 2019 due to both planned renovations and then the COVID-19 crisis.