Timothy Schenck

With Washington, D.C., in the grip of summer heat, there's no better time to open a new green space where, as National Building Museum (NBM) executive director Chase W. Rynd puts it, you might expect it to be hot and humid, but instead "it's a comfortable 72 degrees."

Timothy Schenck

Designed by the New York–based Lab at Rockwell Group, "Lawn" is latest iteration in the NBM's summer block party series and is "the largest, square footage wise, that we've had in the program's history," Rynd says. Filling the museum's expansive great hall, "Lawn" features a sloping hill that rises to 24 feet at the center of the space and is covered in SynLawn—a synthetic turf made from sugarcane with a soy-based backing.

Timothy Schenck

"We started with a goal of transforming the great hall into a space that would, as much as possible, pull visitors in physically and emotionally and tap into their innate sense of curiosity and desire to connect with others," says Rockwell Group founder David Rockwell, FAIA. "And as I started to thinking about summertime activities that you look forward to with friends, there was something so iconic about the notion of a lawn—its an iconic symbol of where we gather."

The green space is dotted with Adirondack-style chairs made from recycled milk jugs, blankets for lounging, lawn games, and hammocks suspended from the museum's 100-foot high ceiling grid. At the crest of the slope, stairs lead to a viewing platform another 30 feet up, nearly at the level of the Corinthian capitols of the hall's monumental columns.

Timothy Schenck

Speakers lining the perimeter of "Lawn" and embedded in the slope itself fill the space with ambient sounds of the outdoors: birds, crickets, wind, and even rain and thunder. Smaller speakers affixed to the top frame of the hammocks play recordings of stories of summer memories from the likes of Deborah Berke, FAIA, Paola Antonelli, Venus Williams, José Andres, and Rockwell, himself. And with a downloadable phone app, also designed by the Lab at Rockwell Group, visitors can use their phones to catch virtual fireflies.

Timothy Schenck

"There's no right way to use these spaces," Rockwell says. "Your time can be social, it can be solitary; you can be active, you can rest. Every design detail throughout the space as well as the programming that will take place over the next two months reflect the widest possible way of using a public space like this." (That programming, organized by NBM, will include everything from yoga classes, to lectures, to movie screenings.) "It has the potential to create new summer memories while evoking the summer memories from the past," he says.

Timothy Schenck

The lawn is the sixth iteration of the museum's summer installation, and follows the likes of the Snarkitecture-designed "Fun House" (2018) and "Beach" (2015), the Studio Gang–designed "Hive" (2017), the James Corner Field Operations–designed "Icebergs" (2016), and Bjarke Ingels Group's "Maze" (2014). Lawn will be open to the public until Sept. 2, and after its run, Rockwell says, "every part of the lawn is going to be reclaimed and used other places."