The beach balls are back, and they’ve been joined by Kith sneakers, Dig, Playhouse, and Light Cavern. They’re all part of Fun House, the new Summer Block Party exhibit that opened July 4 at the National Building Museum in Washington, D. C., and runs through Labor Day.
The show is a retrospective of the work of Snarkitecture, a 10-year-old design collaborative known for its playful approach to art and architecture. The opening marks a return engagement for the firm, which also created the museum’s popular 2015 summer exhibit, The Beach, which featured nearly one million translucent beach balls.
The exhibit’s centerpiece is a freestanding white house that has been constructed in the museum’s Great Hall. It serves as a framework for a series of environments and objects that Snarkitecture has created over the years, including settings for the Storefront for Art and Architecture in New York, Design Miami in Florida, and the Exhibit Columbus design biennial in Columbus, Indiana.
In the back is a kidney-shaped swimming pool filled with the same plastic balls that Snarkitecture used for its Beach exhibit.
Founded in 2008, the New York-based collaborative is headed by Alex Mustonen, Daniel Arsham, and Benjamin Porto. The Fun House exhibit was curated by Maria Cristina Didero, who also wrote the foreword to the 2018 Phaidon monograph, Snarkitecture.
According to Mustonen, this is the first comprehensive museum exhibit for Snarkitecture, and it brings together many of the environments and objects its partners have created over the past decade. Separately, the different rooms and spaces are playfully engaging environments for children and adults. Together, they tell a story about the partners’ idiosyncratic approach to interpreting the built environment.
Mustonen said he didn’t think of the exhibit so much as a ‘greatest hits’ collection but as an opportunity to show how the designers think about the world. He said the group has completed dozens of installations in separate locations, and this is the first time they have been put together to create one immersive experience.
“One of the priorities of Snarkitecture is to make architecture perform in unexpected ways,” Mustonen said. “We are excited that everyone is going to be able to tour the Fun House and explore the wide array of Snarkitecture projects.”
A house was created to provide the framework for many of the installations because of the symbolic value and iconography of the house in the field of architecture, explained Didero, the curator.
“A house is the first thing most children learn to draw spontaneously, adding a triangle to a rectangular shape,” Didero said. For Fun House, the designers reimagined the conventional structure as a way of conveying Snarkitecture’s “unconventional theoretical journey” during its first ten years, she said.
Many of the objects and spaces are rendered in white as a way to encourage viewers to focus on the objects themselves, the designers said.
“A lot of our work is about reduction,” explained Arsham. “By removing color, you can concentrate on the form.”
Besides the pool filled with plastic balls, the exhibit includes environments such as Dig, from a 2011 Storefront for Art and Architecture installation about excavation, and Drift, from Design Miami in 2012.
There’s a ceiling-level display of Jordan One sneakers that recalls the stores Snarkitecture created for Kith, a bubble bath from Design Miami, Light Cavern, commissioned by COS for Salone del Mobile in Milan, and Playhouse, a kid-friendly structure from Exhibit Columbus.
“Everything you’ll see has an element of surprise, something that makes you see…in a whole new way,” observed Chase Rynd, the museum’s executive director. “Nothing is as it seems.”
Snarkitecture takes its name from the Lewis Carroll poem The Hunting of the Snark, which Mustonen says describes an “impossible voyage of an improbable crew to find an inconceivable creature.”
This is the fifth year for the museum’s Summer Block Party, which has featured the work of the Bjarke Ingels Group (The BIG Maze, 2014), James Corner Field Operations, (ICEBERGS, 2016), and Studio Gang (Hive, 2017.)
Mustonen said his firm hopes to take on more permanent projects, perhaps in the realm of residential design. According to representative Ali Moran, it has been commissioned to design a club in Bangkok that is scheduled to open this fall.
Housed inside the Montgomery Meigs-designed former-U. S. Pension Bureau headquarters at 401 F Street N. W., the museum has organized a series of summer programs and events in conjunction with Fun House, starting with a dance program called Daybreaker on July 6.
As part of the lineup, Mustonen will talk about Snarkitecture and Fun House during a Spotlight on Design program on July 19 from 7 to 8:30 p.m.