Review of the National Building Museum
May 1, 2012
by Kathleen Molloy
401 F St NW # 334
Washington, DC 20001
While it's not much of a museum, the National Building Museum is a fantastic destination for children. There are several opportunities for kids and families to learn about history and build of course. In the past entry was free to the museum, but like any facility to keep it running, it needs money. Don't let this deter you from venturing out to this architectural wonder.
My daughter's favorite place in the museum is the Building Zone. The Building Zone is a play space geared for children ages 2 to 6 although I have seen a few wobbly one year olds scoping the scene. The room is big and spacious and I love that it's not cluttered with multiple activities. Young fans can build a tower with cardboard bricks, giant legos, and bristle blocks, put on a construction worker's uniform, steer bulldozers in the construction zone, check out the train table or read a book on architecture. The two favorites for my five year old were the dollhouse and the Project Playhouse. The playhouse is a life-size version of a "green" house safely exposing behind plexi glass the panels and wiring found in the average home. Several children, including mine, were scurrying to turn the light switch on and off. The other big hit for my kid was watering the pretend flower box outside the open window.
Things to know for the Building Zone
- The cost to enter is $3 per person which allows for a maximum play time of 45 minutes.
- Hours are 10am to 4pm, Monday through Saturday, and 11am to 4pm on Sundays.
- Families line up to wait to enter. It is very busy on the weekends, but the line moves relatively quickly.
- An adult must accompany children at all times.
- Food and drink is prohibited. Strollers must be kept outside of the room.
While I held our place in line, my friend took our kids to run around the Great Hall. The carpeted atrium offers a stunning view with high ceilings, large Corinthian columns, and fountain. When we were there, staff was closing the museum early to set up for a special event. For that reason, we couldn't enjoy building Amazing Arches. Kids and parents can create a 7-foot arch from foam blocks. The Great Hall is free to enter and enjoy.
To enjoy the entire architectural experience, rent a $5 family tool kit. There are three hands-on kits to choose from and they are suitable for ages 3 to 11, depending on the type of kit available. You can check them out up to two hours before the museum closes at the information desk. Payment is through cash or check.
While there are limited exhibits at the museum, there are other programs including weekend Discovery Carts and family tours. Family tours last 30 minutes and are led by junior docents. The programs are free and good for ages 5 and up.
For Lego fanatics, a must see is a visit to the exhibition titled Lego Architecture: Towering Ambition. After viewing amazing creations like the Empire State Building, kids and adults alike can use their inspiration to create their own city buildings. You better hurry though, the exhibit ends September 3, 2012. Read the Our Kids Review before exploring the exhibit.
There is a Firehook bakery and coffeehouse selling light eats, sweet treats, beverages and fresh fruit. Perhaps the coolest toy shop I have seen in DC is at the National Building Museum. Cool comes with a big price tag. From Melissa & Doug tool sets and building blocks, puzzles, trucks, games and desktop gadgets for adults, we had fun playing with unusual toys.
- Consider enrolling your 3rd to 5th grader in a two-week session of summer camp. More information is available online.
- On September 22, 2012, attend The Big Build, A Hands-on Family Festival of Tools, Trucks, and Building Arts. Held annually, this festival is a big crowd pleaser.
The National Building Museum is open Monday to Saturday 10am to 5pm, Sundays 11am to 5pm and closed Thanksgiving and Christmas. Visitors can enjoy the Great Hall, museum shop and cafe free of charge. Admission for tours and galleries including the Lego exhibit is $8 for adults, $5 for children and free for under age 3 and active duty military families. If you only want to visit the Building Zone, the fee is $3 per person, regardless of age. Tickets can be purchased at the information desk. Metered street parking around the museum is limited, although we had no trouble getting a spot on a mid-Saturday morning. The nearest metro station is Judiciary Square on the red line.
Have you been to the National Building Museum? What's your opinion? Just drop us a note and Our Kids will add your comments to this review.