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The Building Museum Transforms Itself Into A Glacial Ice Field

James Corner Field Operations designed the frosty summer installation for the D.C. museum.

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While the summer temps in D.C. climb into the 80s and 90s, the Great Hall in the National Building Museum is channeling a chilly arctic vibe—thanks to ICEBERGS, a new installation by James Corner Field Operations which is now open to the public.

Meant to mimic an underwater glacial ice field, ICEBERGS' namesake structures are enclosed by semi-opaque, 20-foot-tall blue walls and a roof that stands in for the ocean's surface. Taking advantage of the building's seven-story atrium, Field Operations designed the installation to look very different depending on whether a visitor sees it from a bird's eye view or from the ground. From above, spectators gaze down on a few peaks rising above the surface. When they walk inside the space, the full structure of each iceberg—which are made from polycarbonate, a material commonly found in greenhouses—is revealed; as in nature, most of their mass is underwater. Visitors can lounge on bean-bag chairs, careen down slides, or just meander around the constructed landscape.

For the past few years, the Building Museum has smartly reevaluated how it uses its Grand Hall during the summer, enlisting architects to design crowd-pleasing installations that sneak in a lesson or two about the built environment. ICEBERGS is the first time a landscape design firm was invited to create something for the exhibition series.

The curators hope that this "ambient field of texture, movement, and interaction" gets people thinking about climate change. Images of ice breaking off of glaciers have become a familiar way to illustrate global warming—yet since they happen thousands of miles away from most people, those events can still be somewhat of an abstract notion.

But standing underneath a 56-foot-tall artificial iceberg demands a moment of pause and invites contemplation about the shear scale of these frozen masses and how the polar thaw will impact us. Instead of the repeated cautions from scientists—which might strike some like a broken record—the installation broaches the subject of climate change through an engaging environment. With ICEBERGS, the museum is simultaneously creating more architecture fans and more environmentally aware citizens.

ICEBERGS is on view until September 5. For more, visit nbm.org.

[All Photos: Timothy Schenck]

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