National Building Museum’s “Investigating Where We Live 2009”


There is a great exhibit at the National Building Museum called Investigating Where We Live (IWWL) 2009.  The exhibit displays the creative work produced over the course of a four-week summer program by a group of middle and high school students from around the Washington, D.C. region.   The students used photography and creative writing to investigate, document, and then describe the built environment.  The program has run each summer since 1996 with students exploring various D.C. neighborhoods.   This summer the students examined Shaw, U Street, and Columbia Heights; many participants, though not all, live in these neighborhoods.  It was fascinating to see all of the unique perspectives that came across in both the visual and written descriptions.  I wrote down some of the poems on display in the exhibit (see below), but there is also a blog where other poems and images, as well as IWWL 2009 reflections are on display.

The Building Museum is nearby the Gallery Place/Chinatown Metro Station (green line) and directly next to the Judiciary Square station (red line).  But instead, why not take a look at these neighborhoods yourself prior to visiting the exhibit?  I suggest taking a beautiful, leisurely-paced, 3-mile walk from the Columbia Heights station (green line), through U Street and Shaw, which will get you to the exhibit in under an hour. [See below map for my suggested walking route.]  The exhibit runs through January 18, 2010.  And while there, check out the other exhibits, especially Washington: Symbol and City.


On display in the Columbia Heights section of the exhibit:

Columbia Heights
by Cheyenne Dohawk, age 15

A quiet neighborhood
But under a lot of construction
Columbia Heights
One of those neighborhoods
That is going through a lot of change
Not a historical neighborhood
One that people don’t understand
Columbia Heights
A theater that is not used
One landmark that people know
Then the new stores that everybody goes to
That is the Columbia Heights I see.

by Ahnaste Summer, age 13

When I was in Columbia Heights I saw
a really pretty dog.  This dog was
white and gray with really pretty
blue eyes.  This dog wasn’t
ordinary it was different.  It
looked like those dogs you see
in snowy areas.  Its tail was
so fluffy and white/gray.  This
dog made me want to go out
and hug him so much.  I
love dogs so much but this was
one of the cutest dogs ever.

(This poem was displayed along with a photo of a wolf dog lying down
and a colorful water-color painting rendition of that same photo next to it.)


On display in the U Street section of the exhibit:

 The Peaceful Life in Meridian
by Bryant Anthony, age 13

Meridian Hill Park waterfall.
Welcome to Meridian Hill Falls,
The Amazon on U Street.


On display in the Shaw section of the exhibit:

by Jeffrey Gan, age 17

The construction makes dust
and it covers everything,
just like ’68;
the churches, the stores, the alleys, the vacant lots.
And you try to shake it off
try to wash your hands,
but all the time you’re inhaling it,
mingling it with your cilia and your existence.
Sometimes, every day it feels like Wednesday,
and the ash and the dust turn
everything an absolute shade of gray.


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