skip to Main Content
Play, Work, Build At The National Building Museum

Play, Work, Build at the National Building Museum

News Release from the National Building Museum

Media Contacts:

For National Building Museum:
Stacy Adamson,, 202.272.2448, ext. 3458
For Rockwell Group:
Joan MacKeith,, 212.463.0334

New Exhibition Features Hands-on, Interactive Presentation of Block Play  

WASHINGTON, D.C.— This November, the National Building Museum, in collaboration with internationally renowned design firm Rockwell Group, presents a hands-on, interactive exhibition exploring the history and creative range of block play. Entitled PLAY WORK BUILD, the exhibition combines items from the Museum’s extraordinary architectural toy collection with Rockwell Group’s Imagination Playground, a breakthrough play space that turns the traditional playground on its head with a focus on loose parts and blue foam blocks of all shapes and sizes. Over the past five years, Imagination Playground has been installed in over 600 locations worldwide. Through this innovative presentation of block play, families will be able to collectively experience the connection between early examples of imaginative play and its modern-day interpretation. PLAY WORK BUILD opens November 18, 2012.

The exhibition begins with a display of architectural and construction toys culled from the Museum’s extraordinary collection of more than 2,300 sets. In each gallery, the history of play with a particular emphasis on blocks is explored. Organized thematically, examples of some of the earliest American construction toys, including alphabet blocks made by S.L. Hill in the 1870s and finger-joint building blocks made by Charles Crandall in the 1860s, are on view. Original Froebel Blocks, designed by Friedrich Froebel, the first advocate of “free play” in childhood and the use of toys for educational purposes, are displayed along with early Erector sets, including one that could build a robot, Tinker Toys, Lincoln Logs, and a variety of rare plastic-molded toys from midcentury, as well as skyscraper, house, and village construction sets. Wall texts add to the narrative, with celebrated architects, designers, and engineers recounting how childhood block play influenced their decision to pursue work in the built environment.

Visitors of all ages are then encouraged to test their building skills in a variety of scales. Tables of foam blocks in different shapes and sizes, designed by Rockwell Group and produced exclusively for the exhibition, are available for small-scale block play in the second gallery.

The floors and walls of the next gallery are covered with Rockwell Group’s trademark blue foam material, with hundreds of large-scale blocks filling the room. Adults and children will be able to reconfigure objects and their environment through a variety of shapes, holes, and connectors that allow for more complex building opportunities. Visitors can create structures directly on the floor, build them off of the walls, or combine the two as they invent individual narratives, construct and dismantle, or simply enjoy the forms and textures.

The final gallery showcases an original interactive installation of virtual block play created by Rockwell Group’s digital interaction team, the LAB. As visitors walk in front of the video projection, their reflections in the form of blue blocks will appear on the wall. As more people enter the projection space and begin to move, more blocks fill the screen. At regular intervals, the screen will automatically fill with virtual blocks, which can be knocked down by visitors’ gestures, eventually causing all of the blocks to tumble down.

“Blocks have always been a fundamental element of play, and were greatly inspirational to Imagination Playground. We are thrilled toork with the National Building Museum and to create a unique indoor play space within the historical context of construction and block play,” said David Rockwell. “Play—for children and adults—cannot be affirmed enough. At Rockwell Group, we like to build, take down and start all over again through creative collaboration, and that is exactly what this exhibit offers in a fun, informative, interactive way.”

“The National Building Museum is always looking for new ways to investigate the world of buildings and, by combining our architectural toy collection with the Rockwell Group’s inventive foam blocks, we have an extraordinary vantage point,” says Chase W. Rynd, the Museum’s president and executive director. “Through the interactive component of the exhibition, in particular, visitors both young and old will be able to examine and appreciate the complexities of the building process—from the sheer fun to the thought-provoking challenge of figuring out the multiple ways we can shape the world around us.”


Tickets for PLAY WORK BUILD are required. Admission to the exhibition is $8 for adults, $5 for youth, students, and seniors, and free for National Building Museum members and children under three. Visit for information about purchasing tickets online. Be sure to bring your entire family to enjoy this unique exhibition and hands-on learning experience.



The National Building Museum is America’s leading cultural institution dedicated to advancing the quality of the built environment by educating people about its impact on their lives. Through its exhibitions, educational programs, online content, and publications, the Museum has become a vital forum for the exchange of ideas and information about the world we build for ourselves. Public inquiries: 202.272.2448 or visit Connect with us on Twitter: @BuildingMuseum and

Rockwell Group is an award winning, cross-disciplinary 140-person architecture and design firm specializing in cultural, hospitality, retail, product, and set design. Based in New York, with satellite offices in Madrid and Shanghai, the firm crafts a unique narrative and an immersive environment for each project. David Rockwell’s interest in theater has informed much of the firm’s work, including: W Hotels in New York, Paris, Singapore, and Vieques; the Elinor Bunin Munroe Film Center at Lincoln Center; The Cosmopolitan of Las Vegas; Maialino at the Gramercy Park Hotel; Adour Alain Ducasse at The St. Regis New York; the central Marketplace of the JetBlue terminal at John F. Kennedy International Airport; set design for the 2009 and 2010 Academy Awards ceremonies; exhibition design for the future National Center for Civil and Human Rights, opening in 2013 in Atlanta; Canyon Ranch Miami Beach; the Dolby Theatre, Los Angeles; Nobu restaurants worldwide; set design for Broadway’s Hairspray and Catch Me If You Can; and the Imagination Playground initiative. For more information, please visit and

Back To Top

There are reasons 17,000+ families have signed up for the RFM eNews

Exclusive Contest Alerts | New Issue Reminders | Discount Codes and Savings