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Skip The Beach, Jump Around In This Giant Ball Pit Instead

It’s 1 million balls to the walls at the National Building Museum in an installation designed to mimic a day at the beach.

This summer marks the official crowning of the National Building Museum in Washington D.C. as the World’s Least Boring Architecture Museum. Brooklyn-based architecture studio Snarkitecture built the museum an indoor beach, using astroturf and around 1 million translucent, recyclable plastic balls that mimic what it’s like to swim in the ocean. “The feeling is closer to being in the water than you may think,” Benjamin Porto, a senior associate at Snarkitecture and the project manager, says about wading through the 10,000-square-foot ball pit. “There’s a throwback to this feeling of going to a boardwalk.”

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It’s the latest from a museum that has managed to make architecture installations–typically button-down affairs full of blueprints, photographs, and no-touch models–seem downright fun. Last year, the Building Museum tapped Danish starchitect Bjarke Ingels to design a giant indoor maze, an installation that attracted more than 50,000 visitors (and even the odd marriage proposal).

Complete with deck chairs and umbrellas, the Building Museum’s latest installation is as close to the beach as D.C. residents can get without leaving the city. Plus, it’s in the soaring atrium of an air-conditioned museum—no sunscreen required.

Snarkitecture used humble materials like scaffolding, drywall, and mirrors to create the enclosure. “We started with different concepts of quintessential summertime activities then thought about what D.C. lacks,” Porto says about conceiving the idea. “It’s a big city on the water, but it doesn’t have a beach.”

Evoking sandy coastal shores was the jumping off point for the installation. But Snarkitecture insists it wasn’t the only goal. “We were looking to make something very familiar and extraordinary at the same time,” Porto says. “The beach is familiar, but with a few tweaks and changes it takes you to a whole new place and makes you think about that transformation. There’s a really contemplative moment about it. You can kind of zone out on the beach and we hoped that would happen here.”

Dive into the Beach at the National Building Museum until September 7, 2015. Admission is $13 for children and $16 for adults. Visit nbm.org for more.

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About the author

Diana Budds is a New York–based writer covering design and the built environment.

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