Published On: Sat, Feb 4th, 2017

Building Newspaper Forts and Visiting Timber City at National Building Museum

In the afternoon Najwa and Nduku were headed to a birthday party in Waldorf. Wanting to get back to getting Najwa out of the house on weekends, and considering tomorrow’s Super Bowl meant we only had today, I found an event at the National Building Museum that seemed right up Najwa’s alley. Building her own fort.

Extra! Extra! Read all about it!

The Museum is hosting a newspaper for challenge in the Great Hall!

Bring your family and collaboratively construct an awe-inspiring fort made entirely of newspapers and tape. Learn about the triangle, the strongest shape out there, and create tetrahedral caverns small enough for one, or big enough for your clan.

Najwa at National Building Museum - Judiciary Square Metro Station
Najwa atop the Judiciary Square Metro station escalator at the steps of the National Building Museum.

I really didn’t know what to expect. Forts made from newspaper and tape? Najwa prefers lots of throw blankets, sheets, clothes, anything that can be stretched over her head. And now that she’s getting into Minecraft, her imagination for constructing her own dwelling is taking off.

We got there early, wanting to make sure we had enough time to build something before Najwa had to head out for the birthday party. We sat with one of the staff members who explained how it works. You first fold a corner of the newsprint paper, then start to roll it up, making sure it’s nice and tight. When you roll it, it goes from flimsy paper to a sturdy stick or pole. make a bunch of these, then tape them together in triangle shapes, a shape that lends itself to stability and strength.

Interesting. There were already some kids there making their forts; of course, my definition of a fort differed from these structures, but whatever. I could see how, with enough rolled up newspaper, using the roll-up method and some tape, you could build a huge structure. Made me think of the playground when we went to Wheaton Regional Park.

Making newspaper fort at the National Building Museum
Making newspaper fort at the National Building Museum
Making newspaper fort at the National Building Museum

It didn’t take long to figure out that we weren’t going to build anything grand. When rolling the newspaper, it had to be really tight, not hollow. And Najwa was struggling keeping it nice and tight. So that we could build anything at all, I started helping, rolling some newspaper, but I knew this was going to be a short-lived project when Najwa decided to build a “pirate’s telescope” instead.

Making newspaper fort at the National Building Museum
Making newspaper fort at the National Building Museum

Whatever. I encouraged it. She can build a fort when she’s older; let’s at least engage her imagination.

Najwa then started talking with some of the other kids there. They were just lounging next to their parents rolling newspaper. I looked to the left and more parents rolling and taping. To the right, grandparents rolling and taping. Everywhere, it seemed, it was the adults rolling the newspaper, taping the ends to make triangles, looking at how our forts were coming along while the kids either made telescopes, waited patiently for us to finish, or just wandered off.

There were some crafty kids who got it, but for the most part, we parents kind of chuckled at ourselves for getting so into this kid’s event. It was actually enjoyable and I was looking forwarded to building a paper version of the Neuschwanstein Castle, but I could tell I was losing Najwa’s attention, so off we went.

Newspaper Forts at the National Building Museum
There seemed to be as many parents making newspaper forts than kids, but still worth taking them to.

Fortunately, it was at the National Building Museum which always has other exhibits and things to do. A new exhibit that caught Najwa’s attention was Timber City.

This fall [as in Fall 2016], the Museum challenges the notion that wood is an antiquated building material when it opens Timber City. The exhibition demonstrates the many advantages offered by cutting-edge methods of timber construction, including surprising strength, fire resistance, sustainability, and beauty. Drawing attention to the recent boom in timber construction worldwide, Timber City further highlights several U.S. based projects, including two winners of the U.S. Tall Wood Building Prize, sponsored by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, in partnership with the Softwood Lumber Board and the Binational Softwood Lumber Council.

Curated and designed by Yugon Kim and Tomomi Itakura, founding partners of the Boston-based architectural design firm ikd, the exhibition’s immersive installation will feature numerous architectural models, dramatic prefabricated wood walls, and large-scale samples of mass timber. Stories will highlight recent innovations of timber technology, especially cross-laminated timber, known as CLT, and explore how U.S. based timber manufacturing can help revitalize rural manufacturing communities and benefit urban centers.

Strong and versatile, timber is the only building material (that) can reduce carbon emissions and remove carbon from the atmosphere, moving us towards more sustainable, healthy, and beautiful buildings and cities.

Timber City at National Building Museum
Timber City at National Building Museum

It’s crazy how much we take the simple things in life for granted. Wood. Who would’ve spent more than a fleeting second thinking about how it’s used in the built environment?

The entire exhibit was about building stuff using wood. Stuff as in 40+ story tower, architecturally-stunning buildings, academic buildings, etc. How using timber was safer than steel when a building caught on fire because of how wood on fire develops a charred outer surface leaving the core cooler than the core of steel when it’s heated. And a bunch of other stuff no one knew about wood and timber other than those in the field.

When a tree is harvested, every part of it is used in some way — the pulp, wood flour, cellulose, shavings, excelsior, particles, veneer, long flakes, chips [which Najwa called mulch because it looks like the pine bark I use around the house].

Timber City at National Building Museum
Timber City at National Building Museum
Timber City at National Building Museum
Timber City at National Building Museum
Timber City at National Building Museum

There were some models of actually buildings being built or already built using wood. Maybe next time we’re in Massachusetts, we’ll stop by and visit the Design Building at UMass.

Timber City at National Building Museum
Timber City at National Building Museum
Timber City at National Building Museum - Brownstein-Selkowitz Carousel Pavilion
The Brownstein-Selkowitz Carousel Pavilion in Stamford, Connecticut.
Timber City at National Building Museum - Brownstein-Selkowitz Carousel Pavilion
Timber City at National Building Museum - Brownstein-Selkowitz Carousel Pavilion in Mill River Park

I can’t say I’m a tree-hugger, but I do appreciate having lots of trees around. I don’t actively read up about it, but the razing of forests around the world does make me wonder sometimes. There are obvious benefits to having lots of trees, so let’s try not to cut them all down. I like oxygen.

But this exhibit seemed to be encouraging it, in moderation of course. And it made a lot of interesting points. Trees are renewable. Young trees suck out more carbon dioxide than mature trees, and less CO2 is a good thing. Controlled forest restoration could also help prevent wildfires raging completely out of control from trees being so close to each other.

Just a little something to think about.

Timber City at National Building Museum
Timber City at National Building Museum
Timber City at National Building Museum
Najwa filling out the visitor guestbook.

But the afternoon wasn’t done yet. This wasn’t Najwa’s first time at the National Building Museum, so she knew where she wanted to go next. But first, the Pension Commissioner’s Suite.

The Pension Building, now the National Building Museum, stands as a memorial to Civil War veterans. From 1887- 1926, the Pension Bureau distributed $8,300,000 in benefits to 2,763,063 veterans (and their survivors) of the Revolutionary War, the War of 1812, the Mexican War, and the Civil War.

Before it was a museum, this is where a lot of money was sent out to millions of veterans. On the second floor are two small rooms, historically preserved, where the Pension Commissioner worked. Today, those rooms can be leased out for gatherings. Najwa, she just wanted to know if the fireplace worked.

National Building Museum Pension Commissioner Suite
National Building Museum Pension Commissioner Suite

We didn’t have much time left before we had to head home, but Najwa insisted on making another trip to the Play Work Build play area.

Only at the National Building Museum can the concepts of PLAY, WORK, and BUILD be combined to create a new exhibition that will enthrall kids and adults alike. Conceived in partnership with the internationally renowned design firm the Rockwell Group, this exhibition combines a presentation of the Museum’s world-class Architectural Toy Collection, a hands-on block play area, and an original digital interactive that allows visitors to fill an entire wall of the exhibition with virtual blocks—and then knock them down.

I always get anxious there because the kids have the tendency to pirate parts from each other. Kids will stack a few pieces on top of each other, building who-knows-what; wander off looking for more parts, scavenging it off another kid’s project; just to come back to find someone has scavenged from their projects. I’ve seen many kids fighting over the building blocks. Najwa included.

Najwa had a few pieces taken, while she was looking for more, but she handled it a lot better than in years past. No kicking, screaming and pouting, but it was obvious that, though there are hundreds of building blocks of all shapes and sizes, there were way too many kids building stuff for the peace to last.

Funny — a lot of the kids were the same ones who were just building newspaper forts a moment ago.

Play Work Build - National Building Museum
Play Work Build - National Building Museum

Then it came time to go. We stopped by the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial across the street from the National Building Museum. Najwa was just a baby last time we took pictures at the memorial. We didn’t stay long. Just took a few selfies then headed home.

National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial
Judiciary Square Metro Station

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About the Author

David Gaines

- David Gaines is a Washington, DC, resident transplanted from North Carolina whose dream career was a newspaper writer but settled for the recruiting industry and simply blogging about whatever thoughts crosses his mind.

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