Snarkitecture’s “Fun House” at the National Building Museum, DC

After a decade working together, a comprehensive museum exhibition for the experimental designers

Design practice Snarkitecture has succeeded in a way most artists can only dream. Their work, always wildly different from project to project, undeniably bears a visual signature. Often when viewing a new architectural piece in their repertoire, one must stop and address internal awe before a dawn of recognition sets in: this was made possible by Alex Mustonen, Daniel Arsham and Benjamin Porto. They wear their signature aesthetic like a belt, crafted from the synapses between the brains of all three partners. And the forms they manifest seem to undermine so much of what viewers know to be structurally true. Now, an entire universe of this has formed as part of the National Building Museum‘s Summer Block Party series. Curated by Maria Cristina Didero, “Fun House” is the first comprehension museum exhibition for Snarkitecture, and it includes 42 different works—some of epic proportion.

“This is really the first opportunity anyone—including us—has had to experience a number of different Snarkitecture projects under a single roof, in a series of interactive, tactile environments,” partner and co-founder Alex Mustonen explains to us. “In some ways, I think it’s the closest a visitor can get to being inside of the Snarkitecture studio, except you’re getting a chance to see more finished environments and objects as opposed to the partial or in progress pieces that tend to exist in the studio.”

It’s a fitting venue for numerous reasons—including the fact that Snarkitecture has already worked in the museum’s Great Hall. In fact, their milestone piece from that exhibition—”The Beach,” composed of nearly one million recyclable translucent plastic balls and the Museum’s most successful exhibition to date—has returned in part. “I’d say we were interested in conveying both a wider and deeper understanding of Snarkitecture to everyone, including the audience from the original version of The Beach from 2015,” Mustonen continues. “While there are many aspects of that project that are aligned with and important to our goals—making architecture accessible and engaging to a wide audience, transforming the everyday into the extraordinary, creating unexpected and memorable experiences—there are many other projects that pursue these same goals,” he says. Their mission here wasn’t one installation that conveys Snarkitecture’s ethos but an entire world built by their practice.

Traipsing through this white-on-white world, visitors oscillate between reality, the relatable and something quite otherworldly. Scope and scale are constantly in flux. “It’s a playful subversion of reality,” he says. “We’re definitely referencing or recalling familiar elements of the house and its related spaces and programs, but filtering them through Snarkitecture’s outlook. That means that certain things may not be as they first appear, or that there are aspects that might only be discovered after exploring this strange house.” The depth of subverted expectation stirs frequent moments of wonders.

“Fun House” marks a rather special anniversary: Snarkitecture’s tenth. And naturally, their ideation process has transformed. “I don’t know that it’s ever easier, but I think within the collaborative environment of the studio that we have more voices contributing to the conversation than we have in the past. It’s been important for us to build a studio culture that not only excels creatively but also creates a productive and positive working environment.” As the exhibition unfolds in and around a freestanding Snarkitecture-design house, guests can explore both environments and objects that demonstrate this development.

When traveling through the spaces one cannot help but wonder if, in the last decade, there been projects that they’ve imagined but never been able to realize—perhaps because the technology simply wasn’t there to fabricate it. “Not yet!” Mustonen concludes. “Maybe we didn’t yet have the resources to bring it into the world, but many of the concepts we’re designing have some connection to handmade, tactile fabrication techniques as opposed to exclusively technology based solutions.” And hearing this, and glancing once again to their exhibition, it all makes sense.

Fun House” runs now through 3 September. Tickets are available online and purchasing in advance for specific dates and times is recommended. Same day tickets are available on site, however.

Images by Noah Kalina