Play Makes Way for Building the Future

By Christina B. Farnsworth | 9/19/2013

Summer at the Building Museum featured two indoor mini-golf courses – each hole designed as a lesson in environmentalism, challenges of global warming, urban planning and/or green.


Children and adults queued in long lines to play one (or sometimes, both) of the nine-hole miniature golf courses inside Washington, DC’s National Building Museum. It was a fine time for laughter and learning in air-conditioned comfort.

The Mini Golf exhibition, open from Memorial Day to Labor Day, featured holes designed and built by leading Washington-area architects, landscape architects, and contractors. The courses explored the architects’ and designers’ ideas for “Building the Future, with twists and turns sure to challenge golfers young and old.”

Some favorite holes:

Capitol City Crops designed and built by Rippeteau Architects, imagined a Washington, D.C., future in which sea-level rise has submerged the city’s monuments and “drowned the farms upon which the city relied for fresh produce.” The mini-golf hole imagines building over the existing mall and “raising terra firma for new urban farms. The Old City is now an historical exhibit below” (visible through clear domes, much as historic museums often show archeological artifacts left in place and visible through glass panels set in the floor). “Situated on the old ground level, iconic structures of Washington’s past are encapsulated and viewed from the new National Mall. On this golf hole you can either maneuver through the farm fields full of carrots and rutabagas or choose to soar through the garden apartments at a bird’s eye view of the Washington Monument.”

The Future's Looking Up!: Green Roofs as our New Urban Playgrounds was designed by Bonstra | Haresign ARCHITECTS LLP, and built by Monarc Construction with additional contributions by ABC Imaging and Interface. The hole reflects “on the importance of green roofs. Green space is a precious commodity, particularly in the midst of a dense, growing, urban setting like Washington, D.C. Among the many benefits of green roof spaces are: creating landscapes for recreational uses, providing local produce through urban farming, and even establishing habitats for dwindling bee and avian populations. This movement also helps to beautify views of a mostly low-lying D.C. skyline.”

Holograph Hole, designed and built by Skidmore, Owings & Merrill LLP, Zebra Imaging and students from the Catholic University School of Architecture, got its inspiration from “3D applications that make sophisticated design concepts easily understandable. From hand rendering to computer generated graphics, architects’ design tools have evolved. New 3D imaging technology takes visualization a step further by creating virtual environments. This hole demonstrates how designers can use new technology to communicate ideas about urban design, architecture, and interior design.”

Urban Pinball sponsored by Evonik Cyro, designed by KUBE Architecture and built by Madden Corporation and Mersoa Woodwork & Design, explores uncertainty. “After all, as the science-fiction writer Ursula K. LeGuin noted, ‘the only thing that makes life possible is permanent, intolerable, uncertainty: not knowing what comes next.’ Take aim and try to control your destiny—but you may end up in a place you never imagined. Travel through the time tunnels, and emerge in the unraveling future, where your path becomes complex and unpredictable. In many ways, life is just a game of chance—relax and enjoy the ride.”

Check out more on the exhibition here. And click here to see the mini-golf holes, one by one.

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