The recurring, yet sometimes overlooked role of the built environment in children’s literature is being showcased in Building Stories, a new long-term exhibit at the National Building Museum in Washington, D.C.

Designed for a multigenerational audience, it offers an immersive exploration of architecture, engineering and construction found in the pages of children’s books and encourages interaction with familiar classics and new favorites through hands-on activities, media installations, sketching, reading and building stories of their own.

Occupying 4,000 sq ft of prominent ground-floor exhibition space, Building Stories is the museum's most ambitious exhibition—developed in partnership with curator Leonard Marcus, the nation’s leading expert on children’s literature, and Portland, Ore.-based exhibition and experiential design studio Plus And Greater Than.

Award-winning author/illustrators David Macaulay and Oliver Jeffers collaborated to create original environments that offer insight into their creative processes, and engage visitors to better understand what is created in books and encourage their own roles in making a better world.

An exhibit at the National Building MuseumThe exhibition will encourage visitors of all ages to interact with familiar classics and new favorites.
Photo courtesy National Building Museum
Building Stories begins with “Building Readers,” an introductory gallery that explores a child’s first experiences of shapes, forms, imagery and words as they becombuilding blocks of language and the built environment. The many parallels between design of books and of structures are revealed as visitors are invited to consider processes of building and bookmaking through a selection of rare book dummies, original sketches and architectural models. 

Three archways inspired by the Three Little Pigs connect “Building Readers” to “Your Home, My Home,” a gallery that explores the idea and expression of “home” in its many forms: a bedroom, a house or a neighborhood and community in cultures and locations around the world. An immersive round theater with a multimedia presentation brings books such as Tar Beach, Shadow and The Snowy Day to life. The third gallery, “Scale Play,” challenges visitors’ perceptions of the environment through another recurring theme in children's literature—characters changing size. It explores what it feels like to navigate the world when one is small, and the impact of monumental architecture on how spaces are seen.
An exhibit at the National Building MuseumThe many parallels between the design of books and buildings are revealed as visitors Photos courtesy of the National Building Museum 
“Wider World,” the exhibition’s final gallery, unites its concepts to focus on  possibilities for children’s real-world empowerment and participation. Books on display explore connections between the natural world and human-built systems, and emphasize characters who use their imagination and work together to shape the future, inspiring other young visitors to do the same. Building Stories opened in January and will be on display for the next decade. Among the exhibition's many sponsors are HITT Contracting; Davis Construction; DPR Construction; Forsythe Inc.; and AECOM.