First week….


My name is Mary Cameron.  I am currently a grad student at American University, earning a Master’s in Art History.  This summer I am interning at the National Building Museum, in the education department.

My first week at the National Building Museum (NMB) was all about getting acquainted with my new work environment.  My supervisor Jamee Telford met me on my first day.  She took me around the education department, introducing me to my co-workers.  I got a docent led tour of the museum.  I learned that the building originally served as the Pension office for the federal government.  It was designed by General Montgomery C. Meigs and completed in 1887.  The design is modeled on the Farnese Palace in Rome, with a large atrium surrounded by an arcade.  Wrapping around the exterior of the building is a frieze, sculpted by Caspar Buberl,  depicting scenes from the Civil War.   Meigs designed the building with its visitors’ in mind.  He made the steps very shallow so injured veterans, visiting the Pension bureau to claim their payments, could easily navigate the stairs.  Meigs also carefully designed the building to allow for a strong air flow, integral to keeping the building cool in pre-air conditioning days.  Meigs chose to use brick as his construction material, as it was the cheapest option available.  The columns of the interior arcades are made of cast iron.  Meigs utilized them as time capsules, placing newspaper clippings inside.  Recently the NBM drilled a hole in one of the columns and used a camera to see the contents.

One of my main tasks this week was to begin researching the neighborhoods that Investigating Where We Live will be examining.  These are Petworth, Trinidad, and the South West Waterfront.  Whenever I had down time throughout the week I worked on my research.  I mainly focused on Petworth.  Petworth is located in North East Washington.  This is an exciting time for Petworth, as it is undergoing a period of revitalization.  Much investment is coming into the neighborhood, allowing new shops and restaurants to open.  Many residents are drawn to the neighborhood due to reasonably priced real houses with yards that can be renovated.

On Wednesday I observed the City by Design education program.  In this program, school groups are introduced to ideas of urban planning, and work to design their own cities.  The students learned that cities typically consist of residential, commercial, industrial, institutional, and entertainment buildings.  In addition, parks further add to quality of life.  They were then assigned to these different categories, and made a building that fit into these descriptions using recycled materials.  For example,  I helped a student who was assigned industrial make an airport out of a box and paper towel rolls.  After the students made their buildings they placed them on a large floor map in a way they thought would be pleasant for residents.

On Thursday and Friday I helped with the City Vision education program, which was wrapping up this week.   City Vision is a semester long program where D.C. public school students design plans for undeveloped areas of Washington, DC.  The students come to the NBM once a week to develop their ideas.  I helped with a group that designed a plan for the Navy Yard area.  On Thursday I helped them build a model.  They used Styrofoam covered with construction paper to represent buildings and placed them on a posterboard that served as a base.  I enjoyed working with the students and hearing their ideas.  It made me excited for when the Investigating Where We Live students get here.  I was greatly impressed with their design.  The students decided that the waterfront should be turned into an entertainment area for people to enjoy.  Currently the waterfront mainly consists of office buildings, so the students decided they should design a space that could be enjoyed by people after work or on the weekends.  The students placed a boardwalk next to the water.  Restaurants lined the area boardwalk.  Their plan also included parks, a movie theatre, and a recreation center.  On Friday I helped the students work on their final presentations.  At the end of the semester students present their designs to a panel of judges.  This is a great opportunity for the students, as it gives them public speaking experience.  I helped the kids organize their presentation and come up with what they wanted to say.  I also helped set up for the event.  I helped the education department set up a stage and chairs in the atrium, and I helped put out food.  It was a great first week, and I’m so glad I will be here for the summer!