Mini Memories: Souvenir Buildings from the David Weingarten Collection


When you think of a place you’ve visited, what comes to mind? Maybe it is a popular tourist attraction, historic event, or even an impressive bridge? For centuries, travelers have sought to bring home remembrances of their adventures. The word “souvenir” comes from the French word for “memory” and can trigger recollections of places seen and experienced, from the spectacular to the routine. Acquiring one of these objects is a means of commemorating, whether it’s the trip of a lifetime, or opening a new bank account. Souvenirs in the form of buildings, monuments, or infrastructure are little objects that can hold major significance.

Mini Memories presents selections from a one-of-a-kind collection of souvenir buildings, on display to the public for the first time. Generously donated to the National Building Museum by architects David Weingarten and Lucia Howard, along with Margaret Majua in 2019, the collection of more than 3,000 miniature mementos, the most extensive of its type, represents a lifetime of careful curation. Over the past thirty-five years, the collection has been widely published and featured in museum exhibitions across the United States.

The 400 structures on view in this exhibition range from awe-inspiring architectural wonders and feats of engineering to less remarkable—but to the right person, just as meaningful—department stores, insurance companies, and factories. Not intended to be accurate models of the built world, these miniatures can be abstract or highly detailed, or altogether make-believe. Many also have practical uses, doing double-duty as coin banks, bookends, thermometers, or clocks. 

Mini Memories will take visitors on a world tour of examples from around seventy countries in 1,000 square feet to explore how souvenir buildings are made, how they are used, and celebrate their remarkable variety.