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Around the World in 80 Paper Models

April 16, 2016 - April 17, 2017

First Floor: F Street Side

CanterburyDrawing 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 will be viewed flat; others will be 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.

After touring the world, visitors will get the chance to build their own models with two structures designed by Museum staff. As one designer promised: “so easy, even an adult can do it.”

Kemnitzer Collection

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.

Sneak Preview of the Models

Paper models are not neutral depictions of international architecture and culture. They represent the time and place in which they are made, as well as the motivations of the designer, whether educational or nostalgic; ill-informed or beautiful. As The New York Times commented upon the issue of a paper model in 1984, the cut-outs are more than “origami”—they are a chance “to forge a table-top past.”

Make Your Own Paper Model At Home

Select the model of choice to access a PDF. Download at home and enjoy.

National Building Museum

Paper Model Image

National Museum of African American History and Culture

Paper Model Image

Suspension Bridge

Paper Model Image