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HOT TO COLD: an odyssey of architectural adaptation

National Building Museum, Washington, DC
Through August 30

As a species, humans adapt and evolve to survive our surroundings. Whether in anthropology or architecture, the adage holds true. It’s architectural adaptation that takes the stage in this exhibition, an ode to the much-buzzed-about Bjarke Ingels Group (BIG). 

This adaptive nature has allowed us to colonize some of the harshest corners of Earth, and BIG has designed structures in many of them. Walking around the museum’s atrium, one journeys from the deserts of Qatar to Finland’s frigid tundra. More than 60 models of projects in varied climes perch between the arches of the museum’s second level. Panels with photos, diagrams, and commentary from Ingels supplement each model, providing a window into BIG’s rationale behind each design. Naturally, the more extreme the climate, the more climatic concerns factor into the design. In temperate areas, politics and culture are greater factors in molding the structures.

HOT TO COLD installation at the National Building Museum. Photo: Matt Carbone

Following the 800-foot walkabout, visitors walk into a gallery screening short films about some of BIG’s completed projects. Entering the space feels a bit like being thrown into an independent European film: One isn’t entirely sure what’s going on, but there’s mood lighting, and it seems mildly intriguing. Seated on chairs or benches unique to each site, viewers can experience the Danish Expo Pavilion from the vantage point of a skateboard, or explore the Gammel Hellerup Gymnasium through parkour.

The concept of adaptation is plastered all over the exhibit. But another key to ancient humans’ success was the ability to use resources to their advantage. big champions sustainability and stewardship in the displays, but the question of how the environment will adapt to us looms large over their architectural jungles and man-made ecosystems.

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