"Icebergs" is an immersive installation at the National Building Museum, which allows the visitors to view glaciers above and below sea level. (Mahnaz Rezaie/The Washington Post)

The National Building Museum has had some pretty cool interactive exhibits over the past four summers. There were two architect-designed mini-golf courses, a huge wooden maze and an indoor beach with an “ocean” of plastic balls.

You can’t help but think of cool, or possibly cold, at this year’s installation, “Icebergs.” The exhibit — an artful arrangement of large, white geometric structures, which opens Saturday — was inspired by the designers’ interest in climate change.

“We feel quite passionately about issues surrounding the environment,” said James Corner, founder of landscape architecture firm James Corner Field Operations.

But the design team also understood the local climate.

“In July and August in Washington, D.C., it’s super-hot outside, it’s humid, it’s sweltering,” Corner said at a preview Thursday. “Wouldn’t it be great to come into an environment that’s literally cool?”

But you won’t need a coat when exploring the giant structures, made from triangles of polycarbonate paneling, a material used to make greenhouses. The icebergs fill the museum’s Great Hall, but Arctic temperatures aren’t part of the experience.

Visitors entering through walls of blue mesh and walking in and around the icebergs are supposed to feel as though they are underwater.

“What we’re looking at at this level is the icebergs below sea level,” Corner said. “Nearly 75 percent of an iceberg is below sea level.”


William Mountfield, 11, of Washington, D.C., and Chaney Reid, 12, of Alexandria, Virginia, try out the slides attached to the largest iceberg in the installation.

From the balcony of the giant berg and the museum’s upper floors, visitors can get a view above “sea level.” The water effect was created with a blue mesh fabric.

The largest iceberg, which is 56 feet tall, contains stairs leading to a balcony with a view over the mesh. The peek from above is worth the climb and possibly a wait, given the small size of the balcony.

But the highlight for kids is also inside the biggest berg: a double slide that isn’t particularly high but was quite slippery, according to young visitors.

“It’s fast and it’s fun,” said Ben Smith, an 8-year-old from Washington who was exploring the exhibit with his family. He and sister Sarah made several test runs.

Ben, who had visited the other summer exhibits, said “Icebergs” didn’t have as much to do as “The Beach” did. That was part of the plan, said Brett Rodgers, head of communications at the museum.


Members of the media sample Japanese shaved ice that will be for sale as part of the installation. Visitors will be able to take a seat on beanbags shaped like iceberg fragments.

Last year’s installation “was an experience that invited sitting and playing with the balls,” Rodgers said. The 180,000-plus visitors often stayed several hours at “The Beach.”

“We want to get you . . . walking around the museum. Use your tickets to explore the other things that are in there,” he said.

Current offerings — including the “Small Stories” dollhouse exhibit, “Around the World in 80 Paper Models” and the hands-on “Play Work Build” — focus on the museum’s mission of exploring the “built environment.”

Combining one or more of these exhibits with “Icebergs” gives visitors a better takeaway, Rodgers said. “You’re going to see the world differently when you walk out of the Building Museum.”


Ben Smith, 8, of Washington, rounds the corner of an icebergs. Kids can learn about the size and science of the bergs through factoids printed on the geometric structures.
If you go

What: “Icebergs”

Where: National Building Museum, 401 F Street NW.

When: Through September 5. Open Monday through Saturday 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., Sunday 11 a.m. to 5 p.m.

How much: Adults $16, youth $13.

Special event: “Family Freeze” late night on July 27, 6 to 10 p.m., featuring a snowflake craft, food, music and the opportunity to talk with wildlife biologists, park rangers and Arctic explorers.

For more information: A parent can visit nbm.org or call 202-272-2448.