The Incongruities of “Please Touch”

We are told so often to stop that we actually come to expect it. As the poet Karla Kuskin put it:

Do not jump on ancient uncles.
Do not yell at average mice.
Do not wear a broom to breakfast.
Do not ask a snake’s advice.
Do not bathe in chocolate pudding.
Do not talk to bearded bears.
Do not smoke cigars on sofas.
Do not dance on velvet chairs.
Do not take a whale to visit
Russell’s mother’s cousin’s yacht.
And whatever else you do do
It is better you
Do not.


So when my sisters and I saw the “PLEASE TOUCH” sign at several exhibits in The National Building Museum, we immediately assumed that the sign was wrong. A museum staff worker and a large display dedicated to “PLEASE TOUCH” assured us that it was not a mistake. Among a variety of glass-enclosed artifacts, visitors are actually encouraged to touch certain items such as a model of the capitol building. Although that wasn’t a particularly thrilling experience, the hands-on approach to exploring different kinds of terracotta materials was educational. Glazed terracotta is definitely smoother than its  unglazed, rough counterpart. Learning to lay bricks in structural bonds using miniature three-holed bricks was also instructive.

Photography was forbidden, as were cell phones, but staff could be lenient. “It’s ok,” one worker said when my father’s cell phone rang inside the exhibition hall. She later pointed my family to the LEGO Architecture exhibit on the second floor.

Here photography was allowed, and touching was required for some activities. (click a photo for larger images)

And included in this camera-friendly exhibit of LEGO buildings was a quote from our Little Prince author:

A designer knows he has achieved perfection

not when there is nothing left to add,

but when there is nothing left to take away.

– Antoine de Saint-Exupery

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