Field Trip Friday: Public Workshop at the National Building Museum

This week, Alex Gilliam, Director of Public Workshop, invited OHNY staff to stop by the National Building Museum to participate in his first building workshops in the Museum’s Great Hall. How could you not want to head to Washington, D.C. to have the opportunity to build some super fantastic colossal structures within the vast interiors of the former Pension Bureau building from 1887?!? Sadly we were not able to go, but we wanted to share you Alex’s awesome participatory building design experiments that took place.

Public Workshop credit Alex Gilliam

jaw droppingly gorgeous and surprisingly educational

Having spent the last four months as the 2010 Field Fellow researching the National Building Museum’s extensive Architectural Toy Collection, Alex concluded his fellowship this week with a series of group building exercises testing the limits of how we learn, design and collaborate, while helping the Museum rethink its use of the Great Hall by collaboratively making gorgeous, temporary structures. To do this, Alex designed and fabricated some 400 disks with assistance from his digital fabrication friends at Cardboard Safari in Charlottesville, Virginia.

Each day consisted of three building sessions. In the morning Alex started out with smaller, faster collaborative building exercises, allowing him to quickly test such things as participants’ pattern recognition skills, visual priming and descriptive words as design tools.

Public Workshop credit Alex Gilliam

building experiment

The afternoon was open to Free Build!, giving families passing through the Museum time to freely play with the disks.

Public Workshop credit Alex Gilliam

museum visitors sitting in the bear cave

The day concluded with a Building Adventure, which merged early creations and ideas into singular larger installation.

Public Workshop credit Alex Gilliam

making as a tool for dialogue workshop #1: silo

Disguised as a week of play, Alex had visitors of all ages working on ridiculously hard challenges that tested pattern recognition, visual priming, and the idea of making-as-a-tool-for-dialogue, and learning processes. He witnessed fantastic leaps in learning, vibrant collaborations and design innovation, and one of his teen builders even came up with some design-build slang, “I’m totally built out!” (but I’m going to keep on going.)

Public Workshop credit Alex Gilliam

inside the silo. stunning!

To learn more about Alex Gilliam’s Making As A Tool For Dialogue Workshops and see images of the other structures that were built throughout the week, check out his blog at

National Building Museum
401 F Street NW
Washington, DC


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