“It’s not that we didn’t love mini-golf, but it was like, ‘enough already,’ ” says Cathy Frankel, vice president for exhibitions and collections at the National Building Museum. “It was enormously popular, but it was time to do something different.” So the museum put away the putters and won’t be setting up a temporary mini-golf course as it did the past two summers. For the “something different,” the museum teamed up with international architecture firm BIG-Bjarke Ingels Group to construct a maze right in the Great Hall. The BIG Maze opens Friday, so here’s a chance to get in a little practice. Take out your pen — and look out for dead ends.
The museum’s “ubergoal is that people walk out of here looking at their built world differently,” Frankel says. “We think this is sort of on the microlevel of that — forcing people to look up [as they navigate the maze] will make them look at our building differently.”
The wooden walls of the maze start at 18 feet high on the perimeter and get progressively shorter, making it easier as you progress (and making it easy to get out).
The museum takes pride in using quirky elements to get people in the door. “People are scared of museums sometimes, and this is a way to bring something familiar in a friendly way, and start getting at what we’re doing little by little,” Frankel says. “People aren’t going to walk out [of the maze] understanding architecture or engineering, but at least they’ll be thinking about it in new way.”
Frankel estimates the average person can complete the maze in about 40 minutes. It took one Express staffer 10 minutes — to make her way back to the entrance. Whoops.
The maze is a precursor to amBIGuity, an exhibit the museum has planned for January on the work of the BIG-Bjarke Ingels Group. Frankel says she hopes the maze stirs up interest so that the exhibit draws more than just architecture students: “It’s a nice way to introduce [the firm’s] work so people want to come back and see the actual buildings in January.”
WATCH YOUR FEET
The maze is 3,600 square feet.
Its location in the great hall may make the maze tougher. “Our building is pretty symmetrical,” Frankel says, and the hall’s walls are similar looking, so it’ll be tough to find distinguishing features. “For those people who have a really keen eye, they could know whether they’re facing north or south and could figure it out from there.” Staff members will be on hand to rescue the lost, and people on the second or third floors overlooking the maze are allowed to shout instructions.
On certain evenings, the maze will be open from 4 to 9 p.m., and Hill Country’s Backyard Barbecue will be on the museum’s west lawn so you can get a snack.
Don’t worry if you get totally lost. “We will sweep it at the end of the day,” Frankel says.
National Building Museum, 401 F St. NW; Fri. through Sept. 1; $13-$16; 202-272-2448. (Judiciary Sq)
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