The latest summer installation at the National Building Museum tasks your imagination in a way that those of other years did not. Bjarke Ingel Group's maze in 2014 and Snarkitecture's ball pit in 2015 were both elegant interpretations of games that remained recognizable. New York firm James Corner Field Operations designed this year's installation, "Icebergs," which opens on Saturday and consists of a "sea" established with blue mesh and polycarbonate paneled structures standing in as icebergs.
It's fitting that the museum's first commission of a landscape architecture firm for this series would design a landscape (or seascape, more accurately). This is the first built project for James Corner Field Operations in Washington, D.C. In addition to the High Line in New York City, the firm's portfolio also includes Knight Plaza in Miami, Tongva Park in Santa Monica, Calif., and the MGM Mirage City Center in Las Vegas. The firm is also working on the Presidio Parklands in San Francisco and the Underline in Miami.
The firm's Icebergs installation is considerably larger in scale than the Beach or the BIG Maze, and exists on two planes: a sea bed (as founder James Corner describes it) and a water line. Visitors enter the enclosed sea bed on the east end of the museum's Great Hall, and navigate through spaces dubbed the Crevasse and the Grotto, and finish at the Bergy Bit and Ice Cube Field, filled with thematic bean bag chairs, at the west end. Detours along the flow include scaffolding in the tallest iceberg that leads to an outlook over the water line, a spot that contributor Amanda Kolson Hurley has aptly named "the selfie pier." Exit this iceberg through a scaffolding bridge into another iceberg, which you can then depart through a pair of slides (or take the stairs). There's also a snack kiosk where local restaurant Daikaya will be serving Kakigōri, a Japanese dessert made with shaved ice.
Unlike, say, the Serpentine Gallery Pavilions, which are built on the blank canvas of a grassy yard, the National Building Museum's installations have the benefit of the architecture of the Great Hall, a soaring enclosed space wrapped by levels of balconies that offer additional perspectives into an installation below. For the Beach and the BIG Maze, these balconies provided a birds-eye view of the ground-level experience. Icebergs doesn't produce that same effect. The mesh is semi-transparent, providing some perspective on the overall installation, but not the clear overview as in years prior. Instead, your attention is drawn to the peaks of icebergs that surpass the water line.
"It's multidimensional," Corner says. "There's no one view; there's no one object. It's a textural field of these big objects that you walk around and you walk through, and you experience at different levels."
The jump in scale is an intentional programmatic change from last year, according to Brett Rodgers, the museum's vice president for marketing and communications. Admission to the installation, which includes access to the other museum exhibits, is, at $16 for adults, more expensive than the museum's typical $10 adult admission price, and Rodgers says that part of the intention of the exhibition is to have people explore the rest of the museum. "We think that is more likely this year," he says. "There is no ball-pit to sit in."
The installation will also include iceberg-related facts sprinkled throughout the space. "I think one of the things that's interesting about this particular installation," Corner says, "is that on the one hand, it's about people and interactivity and fun and discovery and delight—and that's what I think will be the primary appeal—on the other hand, we do have this topical theme of icebergs and it speaks to current issues with the environment and the climate."
It's yet to be determined whether visitors come to play or learn, but some highlights from past years may return. "Proposals we are going to have, I guarantee it," Rodgers says.
"Icebergs" opens at the National Building Museum on July 2 and runs through Sept. 5.
Visit ARCHITECT's Project Gallery to view more work by James Corner Field Operations.