NBM's Green House Worth a Visit

By: Carolyn Kriss

“The Green House” at the National Building Museum is an exhibit with a mission. Through photographs, drawings, and a life-size replica of an ecologically friendly home, the exhibit introduces visitors to the world of green design and architecture.

It shepherds visitors through a prefabricated, eco-friendly home that feels both stylish and tranquil. Called the Glidehouse, the model presents a vision of what environmentally-friendly living could be—the roof is covered in solar panels and the house stays snug with wood-to-wood wall joints caulked to minimize heat loss.

Furniture and appliances maximize style while minimizing resource use. A subtitle for the exhibit could be: “101 things to do with bamboo.” An easily-renewable product, bamboo shows up in everything from the plywood to the floors, lamps, cooking utensils, platters, and stools.

Although walking through the exhibit sometimes feels like a stroll down product-placement lane (almost every object comes with a label you can take), the exhibit proselytizes green practices in general more than it promotes any individual product. Tags specifying designers are supposed to make it easier for visitors to emulate the green philosophy they learn at the exhibit when they go home.

This take-home message feels very different from the rest of the museum’s exhibits (there’s no pitch for, say, Chicago’s art deco architecture), and the exhibit’s urgent tone, particularly after you leave the Glidehouse and enter the section about green trends worldwide, gives it an evangelical feel. Despite its overtness, it’s a compelling gospel. It’s a message of salvation: of energy, of materials, of money, and, perhaps, of the world.

As you leave the dimmed hush of the exhibit, it’s hard to throw away the handouts you picked up throughout. You feel that you have to, at least, recycle them.

Through June 3, 2007 at the National Building Museum (401 F St., NW).  Monday to Saturday, 10 AM to 5 PM; Sunday, 11 AM to 5 PM. Admission is free.