National Building Museum’s New “The BEACH” Exhibit

I haven’t been in a ball crawl since I was 10.

…and yes, you are never too old to enjoy playing in a ball crawl!

I’m 40 and I had the best time with my family visiting the National Building Museum in Washington, DC last week.  We were able to check out their newest exhibit, “The BEACH” created in partnership with New York’s Snarkitecture, this interactive exhibit is the intersection of art, architecture, and play.  What on the immediate outset appears to just be a ball crawl, in actuality is a transforming experience that takes you to a day at the beach!


I had been hearing about this exhibit through my social media feeds and immediately thought it would be a one-of-a kind experience for my family.  I didn’t fully know what to expect, but I knew it was going to involve a lot of family fun.  How often do you and your family get to come together and frolick through something as a simulated beach made of various building materials?


The BEACH spans 10,000 square feet through the Great Hall of the museum.  Tickets to The BEACH exhibit have no timed entry.  So when we got there we saw a red roped line.  It did move quickly however and we were there on a busy Thursday around lunch time.  I’d say we waited for 20-25 minutes.


There was plenty to keep little ones occupied while we waited in line.  There were various building block toys and such for kids to explore the architect or engineer within!


You don’t even understand the anticipation to enter The Beach.  Seeing the white walkway and wondering what is beyond it gets everyone excited.  While we waited, the museum attended reviewed the rules of The Beach which informed us that shoes were optional, no throwing of the balls was permitted, etc.


Once we entered, it almost felt like a monochromatic, stark white beach resort of the future.  The flooring was a white astro turf-like material that simulated the feeling of sand.  There was plenty of room in the back to park strollers, so that it didn’t get in the way of the “beach” experience.


There is also a snack bar to sit and take in a refreshment!


The “beach” was in actuality a ball pit, filled with white plastic balls that had a slope similar to a beach.  There was a shallow end where littles could safely play and it gradually got deeper.  It never got too deep that an adult could not stand waist-high.  The pit was divided by a center platform which made it easy for spectators to watch and the full-length of the beach to be enjoyed by all.

DSC_0847b The shallow end was a bit easier for my 2-year old, but he still preferred to get buried in the deeper end!


The photo-ops are endless!


The deeper end was quite comical!  The room was so full of laughter and giggles!  With the density of the balls, it didn’t seem easy for everyone to bumb into each other and get hurt while standing. I wonder if that grown man realized I was climbing over him trying to get out!


Here’s a warning…do NOT get in a “sitting” position or you will get stuck!  I think my feet and rear were planted on the floor in this shot.  The pressure from the balls and pure physics made it feel impossible to get out!  And yes…you will get buried…quiet easily!

I haven’t laughed so hard in a long time!


The BEACH is running now until September 7, 2015.  Admission tickets are required, but it also provides entrace to other exhibits at the museum as well.  We were able to also enjoy the Designing for Disaster, Scaling Washington, and Cool & Collected:  Recent Acquisitions.  Photography was not allowed, so I don’t have any images to share.  However, my older kids enjoyed seeing the variety of forms, sculpture and materials as told through different themes. The Building Zone, which is geared towards children to explore was full to capacity the time we were there, so we didn’t get a chance to check it out.  We also unfortunately didn’t get to enjoy the other children’s area “Play Work Build” because we were needing to leave and hit the road back home! Will have to explore that next time!

A visit to the National Building Museum can lead to many teachable opportunities for your children/students.  They currently have postcards at the exit of the exhibit encouraging visitors to brainstorm ideas of how they would create an interactive exhibit in the Great Hall.  In addition to drafting ideas on that, other STEM-based and building type activities you can do with your children after a visit include:

  • Upcycle To A New Toy:  Find basic items around the house (or from the dollar or home improvement store) that are typically used for another function.  Put them together in a unique way to create something recreational and fun!
  • Ball Crawl Estimation:  Estimate the number of balls needed to fill a 10,000 square foot space using knowledge of volume of a sphere
  • Physics of a Ball Crawl:  Research and answer the following questions: What forces were acting on you when you were in the ball crawl?  Why was it so difficult to maneuver or stand up sometimes?



Disclosure:  I am not affiliated with the National Building Museum.  I received complimentary admission to the National Building Museum and The BEACH exhibit.  The thoughts and opinions here are my own.

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