Reviewed by Tracy M. Scott
Most people don’t think much about buildings. The Raise the Roof exhibit at the Science Museum of Virginia changes that, as it will fully immerse you in the story of buildings from construction to demolition. Richard Conti, chief wonder officer of the museum, explains it perfectly, “As you interact with the exhibits, you’ll uncover practical information you have lived with for years, but never fully understood.”
As you enter the exhibit, you encounter a large dome that seems to be falling apart. Entering the dome, a kid-height crank is there. It takes some effort (great for teamwork) but turning the crank brings the entire dome back together. Let go of the crank and the ropes slowly loosen, bringing the dome back to its collapsed state.
If your child is a hands-on kid, this definitely is the place for your family. Options for building with a variety of materials are available at several stations throughout the exhibit, from the easy-to-use Kapla blocks to complicated truss building more suitable for the older kids, as there are small parts involved. Gross and fine-motor skill opportunities abound for the little ones and complex problem-solving options are also offered.
Your senses are definitely engaged in Raise the Roof. We saw a grandparent and grandchild enjoying one of the more unique parts of the exhibit. There’s a station where you listen to different sounds with different types of echoes and try to identify the room where the sound was recorded. A heated case has different types of insulation where you can feel the effectiveness of insulation using the sense of touch.
In terms of digital experiences, a video screen runs different short videos about building demolition, the longest being a four-minute montage on demolition. The Dogtastrophe challenge offers the chance to build a doghouse based on a humorous catastrophe using a computer. Another video station allows visitors to select a building and watch it being demolished.
Cultural history is also on stage with a large traditional Mongolian home called a ger. You may be more familiar with its cousin, the yurt. Visitors can go inside and learn about these portable structures (made without nails!) that have been in use for centuries through informational placards as well as examples of furniture that would be used in this type of home.
My 12-year-old thoroughly enjoyed the exhibit and could have stayed for a couple hours working on building trusses. We saw toddlers through teens there and everyone was participating in the hand-on activities. Allow at least an hour if you take on all of the activities offered in this fun exhibit. A bench with great reading materials about buildings is available for anyone needing a break from the action. Raise the Roof is included with Museum admission and runs through April 28. More information is available at smv.org or by calling 804-864-1400.