House & Home in America

By Peggy Roalf   Monday April 23, 2012


The museum that brought you Stay Cool! Air Conditioning America now presents another unexpected look at how American life has changed since Colonial times. Opening on April 28 at the National Building Museum in Washington, D.C., the exhibition will show how remarkable transformations in design, technology, laws, and consumer culture have brought about enormous changes in what it means to be at home.

Intricate scale models present iconic residential architecture including Frank Lloyd Wright’s iconic Fallingwater and Chicago’s Hancock Center. Three sets of specially commissioned films featuring contemporary and historical images of domestic life round out the experience. The exhibition features “please-touch” walls made out of different materials used in residential construction over time, from adobe bricks to Structural Insulated Panel (SIP) systems. 

The exhibition is organized around key themes such as Living at Home: Building a Home; and Buying a Home, which introduces visitors to the origins of our modern mortgage system as well as other milestones in the history of home ownership. An 1860s homestead claim and a photograph of a 1930s couple signing a government mortgage with an “X” help tell this story and link the laws and regulations concerning home ownership to the current economic situation.

In addition, commissioned scale models of legendary iconic American homes will delight visitors who recognize such special buildings as Mount Vernon and Vizcaya. Photographs complementing the models show how Americans used ideas from these famous structures to design their own more modest homes.

The exhibition was curated by Donald Albrecht and Thomas H. Mellins, and designed by Ralph Appelbaum Associates. National Building Museum, 401 F Street NW, Washington, DC.

Above: Family barbecue in Lakewood Plaza suburban development, Long Beach, California,ca. 1950. Architect: Chris Choate with designer Cliff May. Photo by Maynard L. Parker; The Huntington Library, San Marino, California.