Washington DC’s National Building Museum was recently gifted 3,069 miniature three-dimensional buildings by American architect and collector David Weingarten. For over forty years, Weingarten has collected these miniatures. The buildings represent over sixty countries and have previously lived in museums and homes all across the United States.
The pieces in the collection are made from various materials, and some have functional uses such as being clocks, bookends, and salt-and-pepper shakers. Even though 75 percent of the souvenir buildings are smaller than 6 inches tall, they can be quite heavy.
It took the museum’s team 10 days to pack up all of these miniatures. The team of four packed 500 structures a day. The task of bringing all of these structures to Washington DC from California took six days and 125 boxes.
The National Building Museum’s press release said, “Weingarten first began collection souvenir buildings in 1976, on a trip to Speyer Cathedral in Germany with his uncle, the architect Charles Moore. When his uncle purchased a larger miniature of the Cathedral, Weingarten opted for a smaller representation. The two Speyer Cathedrals, part of this collection, sparked a decades-long endeavor, later assisted by Margaret Majua, with whom Weingarten wrote two books about the collection, and Lucia Howard, his partner at Ace Architects and with Piraneseum, their enterprise focused on 17th-19th century European architectural models and pictures.”
The museum’s chief registrar, Nancy Bateman, says that the donations are “quite impressive individually, and as a group they’re mind-boggling.” The museum’s executive director, Chase Rynd, added that the miniatures are “playful and fun”. However, it is important to understand the serious message behind the collection: demolishing beloved buildings has a big effect on people’s memories of skylines… and travels.
Weingarten hasn’t stopped collecting, he is still seeking rare 20th-century pieces. On the top of his wish list is a two-foot-tall bronze version of the Woolworth Building. This miniature was given as a gift to employees in 1910. He says, “That one’s still out there.”
The age of miniature buildings was during the early 20th-century. Whether it’s the Leaning Tower of Pisa lipstick case, the Empire State Building with a floating Zeppelin, or the Washington Monument thermometer, it is the recollections of places visited that is the most special. Weingarten hopes that perhaps this collection will inspire people to visit somewhere spectacular… and to make their own memories!