First Floor: F Street Side
Drawing from a magnificent 4,500-piece collection recently donated to the Museum, the architectural paper models represent buildings, cultures, and countries from Austria to Wales. The collection includes examples of hand-drawn castles, intricate cathedrals with water-colored gardens, and micro-models smaller than a postcard. Some are viewed flat; others are copied and constructed in 3-D.
In keeping with the “around the world” theme, the exhibition displays a wide variety of structures exploring how states and countries are represented through paper models. Architectural representation sometimes showcases iconic grandeur—the Dome of the Rock, the Roman Baths, a World Cup soccer stadium in South Korea—and sometimes devolves into a patronizing primitivism, in which cultures disappear into myth. Viewing a selection of paper models from the 1950s, for example, visitors will recognize that unfortunate stereotypes are often linked to a limited architectural understanding of foreign cultures.
David Kemnitzer describes his interest in paper models as dating from the 1940s, when his aunt sent home the toys from her post as an Army nurse in Germany. One of his mother’s friends noticed his paper model construction and suggested he should be an architect. With his career thus determined, Kemnitzer went on to collect paper models, perhaps in honor of his younger self and his early, formative interest in international paper toys.
All paper models in this exhibition are from the Kemnitzer Paper Model Collection housed at the National Building Museum. The collection’s models represent all 50 states and multiple countries, as well as many imaginary buildings such as farms, forts, villages, skyscrapers, and castles.
Make Your Own Paper Model At Home
Select the model of choice to access a PDF. Download and print at home and enjoy!
National Museum of African American History and Culture