National Children’s Museum officials aim for their facility in downtown Washington to be a reality next spring, but they’re hoping kids will think that visiting is like stepping into a dream.
“We wanted to create magic from the first moment of entry, and the climber and slide provide that sense of fun and adventure to transport into a dreamlike world,” said Crystal Bowyer, president of the National Children’s Museum. The museum is starting over after it closed its space in January 2015 at National Harbor in Oxon Hill, Maryland.
The climber and slide Bowyer is talking about are part of the Dream Machine, a 50-foot round structure that will be at the center of the museum, which is under construction in the Ronald Reagan Building, near the Mall.
It will feature netting, ropes, two slides, mobiles and balls, some large enough to climb inside.
“I think the impression will be, ‘Oh, look at that cool thing. Oh, there’s people in it. How do I get in?’ ” said Ron Davis from Gyroscope, the company that designed the Dream Machine.
Davis, the project’s lead designer, said clouds were a big inspiration for the structure. He and two co-workers looked on Pinterest for ideas of how they could turn the idea of clouds dissipating, or breaking up, into something to climb on.
They came up with stacked balls, many of which will be glossy white on the outside. Some will have a finish like a mirror. Some will move. Netting that is translucent, or lets light through, will allow visitors to climb in and around the balls.
“As you look up, the sort of twisting cloudy form will continue,” Davis said.
A slide was a “must-have” part of the Dream Machine, he said. A ride down the metal tube will take visitors from the main level to the lower level in a long curve.
“If you come down this slide, it’s like coming through a black hole,” he said.
That idea might be scary for some kids, so there will also be a smaller slide as a “starter experience.”
Some visitors may focus on the slide, but others might be attracted to the ropes and netting, Davis said.
“There are some people who will say, ‘My first challenge is going to be to get to the top,’ ” he said. “Everyone’s got a different take on it.”
Davis and his two fellow designers didn’t want that task to be too easy.
“The higher up you go, the most challenging it is,” he said.
And although the designers wanted to make the Dream Machine challenging and fun, they also had to make it safe and fit inside the museum’s circular stairs. That sounds like a tough assignment, but it wasn’t the first time Gyroscope has created a climbing structure. That’s why the children’s museum chose the company.
“The Gyroscope team are some of the best exhibit designers in the world,” Bowyer said. “They specialize in
children’s museums and science centers, and since we are combining these two platforms, they were the perfect choice.”
If you travel around the country, you might see other examples of the design firm’s work. One is at the Minnesota Children’s Museum in St. Paul.
Last year, the museum opened an addition that included a four-story climber called the Scramble. It includes a netted catwalk 40 feet in the air and a spiral metal slide.
“The slide is definitely the highlight,” said Kirstin Nielson, senior experience developer at the museum. “You see a lot of kids do a circuit. You get up to the slide as fast as possible, go down and run back up.”
Nielson said the Scramble gives visitors a chance to move and problem-solve with their bodies. It has been popular with kids as young as 2 and much older visitors.
“We do see a lot of adults scrambling through the thing,” Nielson said with a laugh.
Gyroscope wanted to accommodate young and old in the Dream Machine, too. And the ability to climb won’t be required to enjoy it.
“There’s some opportunity to roll out in a wheelchair . . . as though you climbed all the way up,” Davis said.
He promised that there would be sound and light as part of the Dream Machine experience and hinted that there would be more to discover as kids climbed in and up. “We are going to have little details that are subtle but will bring joy and surprise.”
The National Children’s Museum, at 1300 Pennsylvania Avenue NW, will cost $10.95 for age 1 and older.