Green Community


Matter Architecture Practice, MGMT. design

Practice Area


The National Building Museum

Project Vision

Green Community was the third in a series of sustainability exhibits at the National Building Museum and the first major exhibition in the United States to explore the complex process of creating and sustaining healthy communities. The exhibition looked at how communities are changing their global impact and explores a variety of sustainable planning strategies such as cleaning up and redeveloping brownfields and grayfields, transit-oriented planning, smart use of natural resources, land conservation, and minimizing waste. 

The exhibition was divided into elemental categories, highlighting communities that demonstrate successful examples of sustainable planning, policies, design, and technology.

The collaborative design team was inspired by larger definitions of community, from the scale of digital communication networks that allow the individual to be aware of and interact with a larger world, to the near-atomic community of the cells that make up who we are.

The designers were also inspired by ice-core drillings, using the concept as a visual and organizational tool in the exhibition. Current research illuminates more about our climatic history than was ever previously known. The team developed a series of time/core chronological “factoids” that run the length of the gallery, connecting two mirrored end surfaces that visually extend the timeline infinitely in both directions. Sample communities, exemplary of technological or social innovation, were presented as “core drillings” extrapolated and magnified for analysis.

To address the challenge of presenting exhibition content that was text-heavy and sparse in artifacts, cases were designed to complement the exhibition’s narrative voice. Statistics relevant to larger issues addressed by the individual communities were represented in the form of three-dimensional “bar graphs” filled with reused or recycled materials such as shredded plastic, cork, and tires to both showcase green materials and add to the overall narrative and texture of the project.

All material choices and fabrication methods were determined by their environmental impact. Steel was used for its recycled content and re-use ability. Exhibition didactics were printed directly on recycled acrylic (eco-glass), and cork and recyclable carpet tiles were used as flooring material. The exhibition casework and structure were prefabricated by the exhibition design team to maximize efficiencies of material usage and allow for greater control during production. Exhibition seating was fabricated from reclaimed lumber. Connections between materials were mostly mechanical, avoiding adhesives and enhancing flexibility between components.

To minimize the energy required to illuminate the exhibition, energy-efficient electroluminescent films and LED panels were integrated into the casework. The galleries’ south-facing windows were also opened for the first time in years, allowing the space to be naturally lit, diminishing reliance on artificial lighting.

Project Details
Excellent use of space, color, and innovative design that presents content in a compelling and engaging way.
Juror 1
The subject matter and the scale and character of the exhibit materials were in perfect alignment. The ellipsoidal shapes, color palettes, and materiality respond perfectly to the context. They combine to create a serene and open feeling that allows visitors to establish a self-paced discourse easily.
Juror 2
Design Team

Matter Architecture PracticeSandra Wheeler, Alfred Zollinger (partners in charge); Ken Kinoshita, Parker B Lee, Christopher Malloy, Elizabeth Beecherl, Christine Chang (designers)MGMT. designSarah Gephart (partner); Asad Pervaiz, Eleanor Kung (designers) 

Design Firm

Matter Architecture Practice, MGMT. design


Potion (digital interactive design), Lisa Grossman (film editor)


Matter Architecture Practice (exhibition display cases and furnishings), National Building Museum (gallery buildout and exhibition installation)