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Domestic Dissonance

The Architect’s Newspaper, May 29, 2012

The quotation that greets visitors to House & Home, a new exhibition at Washington’s National Building Museum, comes from Ralph Waldo Emerson: “A man builds a fine house; and now he has a master, and a task for life; he is to furnish, watch, show it, and keep it in repair, the rest of his days.”

The quotation is apt, because House & Home ends up being mastered by its own conceptual overreach. The whole history of the American house—architectural, technological, social—is simply too much to fit into five rooms.

The first gallery has murals of photographs of American housing through the centuries, from bungalows and soldiers’ barracks to Hearst Castle and Marina City. Two dollhouses on display suggest the gap between the physical structures we inhabit and the ideals bound up in the notion of “home.”

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