Sensational, striking, overly zealous ambiance: these are a few initial reactions to entering this sub-glacial world. Architects from the James Corner Field Operations strove to present three chief motifs: geometric patterns, climate change induced glacial melting, and spatial experiences — how we relate to objects and how they relate to us.
The exhibit boasts, “As landscape representation, ICEBERGS evokes the surreal underwater world below glacial ice fields. Such a world is both beautiful and ominous given our current epoch of climate change and melting ice. As physical experience, the installation creates an ambient field of texture, movement, and interaction — an unfolding landscape of multiples — distinct from a static object. As geometry, it speaks to the mathematics of triangles and parallelograms in folded combinations.”
The interactive design invites spectators to visualize shapes and, literally and figuratively, experiment with spatial relationships. Given that this is the building museum, the exhibit also implores guests to think about the intricate design and construction of each berg. Some seemingly emerge from the ground, while other opaque constructions dangle, suspended from the ceiling. After all, architecture is art.
A translucent blue tarp drapes the top of the exhibit, emphasizing that we are in an elusive world and privy to observe icebergs submerged. It’s a rare chance to experience the phenomena in a way that is not normally feasible. However, guests can climb a staircase to ascend sea level and gawk at the peaks of icebergs from the conventional viewpoint — remember, it’s all about perspective! Around 90% of an iceberg lies below the surface; we’re accustomed to the 10% above sea level, but, in this exhibit, we experience the whole object, bottom up.
While pondering the nature of existence and how humans so negatively impact the natural world as the ice melts and seas rise, late night attendees can down signature cocktails to ease their life crises. This week’s event offered a bourbon with peach Kentucky Cobbler and a Hillbilly Kicks composed of moonshine, whiskey, sweet tea and mint.
The activities included sculpting an iceberg with odd sizes of triangles, constructing Lego floats to support both Jack and Rose (embodied by a tomato and potato), and navigating tumultuous waters on a plank. A few conclusions: geometry is exceedingly difficult, most people would perish in a shipwreck, and there was absolutely enough room on the famed door of Titanic to hold two people. Throughout the night, children and adults alike crafted Lego replicas, in an activity duly named ‘I’ll Never Lego Jack,’ which both floated in a tank and held the aforementioned potato/tomato. Take that, Rose.
Tired from all the talk of drowning and the suffering planet? A sleek slide emerges from an iceberg and it packs an impressive punch, even for adults.
Being as there was little talk of climate change beyond the installation’s bio, the exhibit lacked on the scientific front. ICEBERGS does, however, give homage to architecture and the essence of the craft.
The interactive features, the myriad of ways to view and experience the constructions, and the overall hangout space makes for a sensationally cool evening. However, the most popular activity still seemed to be drinking beer on the randomly dispersed triangle beanbag chairs — no surprise there. We are a predictable species, after all.
ICEBERGS runs from July 2nd – Sept. 5th 2016.
The National Building Museum, 401 F St NW, Washington, DC 20001.
By Kate McMahon