It’s fun to get lost in the National Building Museum’s BIG Maze

Remember the tall hedge maze in The Shining?

The National Building Museum recently co-presented a screening of that Stanley Kubrick 1980 horror classic, set on the grounds of a haunted hotel with a menacing maze of entrapment that eventually did in its lead character.

BIG Maze Photo by Aram Vartian

BIG Maze
Photo by Aram Vartian

Next weekend the museum offers another movie remembered for its challenging, entrapping maze, Jim Henson’s 1986 Labyrinth. Screened at the AFI Silver Theatre in Silver Spring, both films tie in to the museum’s temporary summer exhibit The BIG Maze, a large-scale structure made of maple plywood with only one way in and one way out — and multiple dead-ends.

“There’s nothing scary about this maze,” says Cathy Frankel, vice president of exhibitions and collections at the museum. In fact, the playful maze, built by the Denmark-based architecture firm BIG-Bjarke Ingels Group, is this year’s replacement of the summer attraction over the past two years, a mini-golf course in a gallery space.

“We were trying to think of something that’s sort of fun for all ages and is a built piece that people could experience,” says Frankel. She worked with BIG to design and build the maze right inside the museum’s Great Hall. It’s an unprecedented move in the grand space popularly rented out for events, but one that enhances visitors’ architectural appreciation.

“With outdoor mazes, you look up and see sky, you can’t really orient yourself,” Frankel explains. “But here you look up and see this amazing building in this historic Great Hall with the world’s largest interior columns as far as we know…. I think people are looking at the building in a new and different way.” Also, unlike most outdoor mazes, you can view the BIG Maze from above, via the building’s second and third floors.

“It’s more fun to go through it blindly first and get lost,” she advises. “Then go up to see what the route is and try it again.” Visitors can wind through the maze, which takes anywhere from 2-to-15 minutes to complete, as many times in one day as they like in pursuit of mastering it. “It took me a while,” Frankel concedes. “But now I can actually do it without a wrong turn anymore.”

The BIG Maze is up through Sept. 1 at the National Building Museum, 401 F St. NW. Tickets are $16 for non-members. Call 202-272-2448 or visit nbm.org. Watch a first-person video as Aram Vartian navigates the maze at MetroWeekly.com.

Doug Rule is a theater critic and contributing editor for Metro Weekly.

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