This summer, the National Building Museum, in Washington, D.C., plays host to a whimsical installation from BIG’s Bjarke Ingels. A massive maze, over 18 by 18 metres wide, fills the historic institution’s Great Hall with a bit of unexpected fun.
From the outside, the towering Baltic Birch plywood walls seem daunting, as does the narrow entrance that visitors slip through. But once you’re inside, the walls’ height diminishes, gently sloping towards the centre, as you travel further into the maze. In a typical maze configuration the puzzle is only solved once you turn the final corner, revealing the way out; in Bjarke Ingels’ version, the reveal comes at the heart, where the walls have dropped to display a view showing both the way out and the passage you’ve just taken.
Another perspective can be gained from the Great Hall’s upper balconies, from which museum personnel have been surprised to see the centre become a popular gathering place. The maze is being enjoyed by adults and children alike and parents often stop to chat in the middle while the kids race through. Says Jamee Telford, director of visitor services, “There hasn’t been a lot of hesitancy when entering the maze – I think people are just excited to get in. Kids especially are very eager and really like going through multiple times – finding all of the dead ends and trying to improve their time. Adults don’t seem to rush as much and appear to be more contemplative as they walk through.” The staff also notes that a bit of a spectator sport has developed here: there is often a crowd watching from above and calling out directions, sometimes helpfully and sometimes not.
The installation acts as a preview to an exhibition featuring the work of Ingels and his firm. Opening at the museum in January, amBIGuity will provide a behind-the-scenes look at Ingels’ thought process, following the path between initial sketches to completed buildings. No doubt this will be just as interesting a reveal.