This piece of cultural news is a little meta: The National Building Museum has received more than 3,000 miniature, or souvenir, buildings as a gift from American collector and architect David Weingarten. Weingarten collected the miniatures over four decades. They represent structures in 60 countries and previously appeared in museums and homes across the U.S.
In all, the “20th Century Souvenir Buildings Collection” comprises 3,069 three-dimensional figures, including the Leaning Tower of Pisa, the Washington Monument, the Seattle Space Needle, Paris’s Notre Dame Cathedral, and Beijing’s Temple of Heaven as well as U.S. banks, stadiums, and other Americana. The souvenirs are made from various materials and some have additional uses as stationary items, bookends, bottles—even salt-and-pepper shakers.
“Among the surprising truths of souvenir buildings is that they almost never cause us to recall just buildings,” Weingarten explained. “Rather, we think of the place and its setting, ourselves and those with whom we visited, of the day or night, the time of year, moments momentous and everyday—that universe of reflection we associate with memorable places.”
The miniatures have sundry provenances. Per a recent release from the Building Museum:
Weingarten first began collecting 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.
Several souvenir buildings from the donation are now on display at the museum’s “Animals, Collected” exhibit, which curators describe as a “cabinet of curiosities” featuring architectural objects that depict animals. The museum notes that it will run an online collections database.