CLOSING February 19, 2024

Please note: Currently we are operating PLAY WORK BUILD in a limited capacity: only 65 people in the exhibition at a time. The blocks and surfaces are sanitized regularly, and we encourage wearing masks for ages 2 and up. 

Research has shown how important play can be to a child’s development. But play is not only for kids. Through this exhibition, visitors begin to see the connections between play, design, and the work of building professionals like architects and engineers.

Only at the National Building Museum can the concepts of PLAY, WORK, and BUILD be combined to create an exhibition that enthralls 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.

After viewing a selection of construction toys from the Museum’s collection, from the familiar Tinker Toys and Lincoln Logs to the lesser-known Bumpalow House and Ringa-Majigs, visitors can reconfigure their environment and design their own course of play with individually sized blocks. In the subsequent gallery, visitors are invited to work individually to reimagine their small-scale structures created into oversized structures using supersized foam blocks or to work in groups to design and build something entirely new. Whether visitors choose the tactile experience with the small or large blocks, the virtual block-play experience, or all of the activities, children and adults alike are encouraged to participate in unstructured, imaginative play that exercises muscles and minds.


“Parents and children may want to consider putting down the video games and picking up the building blocks. A new exhibit on playing with blocks has opened in Washington, D.C.”—USA TODAY

“PLAY WORK BUILD is both an extension and an elaboration on one of the museum’s primary missions, to introduce children to the building process. The second-floor gallery is now overrun by thousands of pieces of blue foam, some sized for building models and some sized to build forts.”—The Washington Post On Parenting

“Collaborative activity, physical movement, and no resemblance to a typical playground are the three major themes of this endeavor.”—Curbed DC

“The National Building Museum already hosts programs for teens interested in pursuing design as a career, but an upcoming exhibition intends to inspire a younger generation of architects, builders, and engineers.”—Residential Architect

The Atlantic Cities went behind the scenes to learn more about the “nation’s biggest architectural toy collection.”


PLAY WORK BUILD is possible by the President’s Exhibition Fund and by gifts from CoStar Group, Inc., DAVIS Construction, and SIGAL Construction Corporation. Additional support provided by EYA. In-kind support provided by M.H. Stallman Company and Washington Parent. Design services donated by Rockwell Group.