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The same article cited a Commerce Department report claiming $125 million was invested in 50,000 minigolf courses around the country.

According to the Building Museum exhibit, there are just 5,000 minigolf courses in the United States.

“It was very surprising to me to find out how many more courses there were in the 1920s,” said Sarah Levitt, a Building Museum curator. “I kept seeing references to minigolf courses on rooftops in New York City.

Carter was credited with starting the obstacles. His hotel was called the Fairyland Inn, and he had fairies and elves and hollowed-out tree trunks. The windmills and tiki huts came later, in the 1950s. All of the courses from the 1920s were run-down. The industry was falling off, and they tried to rev it back up.”

Building Museum officials settled on minigolf as a way to attract children and families, take advantage of their large, air-conditioned indoor space and create what Ms. Frankel called a “town square environment.”

Course construction

The Building Museum isn’t the first institution of its kind to embrace minigolf. Art museums in New York City, Houston, Minneapolis, Salt Lake City and Boca Raton, Fla., have exhibited popular, playable artist-designed courses with avant-garde holes ranging from a model White House made from pill bottles to a hole that requires visitors to ride a stationary bike while putting.

Reaching out to Washington-area architects and designers, the Building Museum gave purposefully vague directions: Create a hole that relates to “the built environment.”

Local architect Erik Hoffland was asked to participate but declined because of time constraints. He said the task is harder than it seems.

As an architecture student at Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh, Mr. Hoffland designed and built a minigolf hole as part of a departmentwide challenge.

“The challenge that architects have with this is that we’re always so serious about our work, designing things that will stand the test of time and hold up under the scrutiny of future designers,” he said. “But with minigolf, it’s really about whimsy, being playful.

“Most architects aren’t used to catering to that. We often try to put ourselves in the minds of our clients. In this case, the client is different. It’s children and families. So we have to let our guard down, be a little off the wall.”

Carmel Greer took up the challenge. Owner of the local District Design firm, she drew on her childhood minigolf experience — playing with her cousins on “supercheesy, neon” courses along North Carolina’s Outer Banks — and her graduate school work on 18th-century Italian architect Giambattista Piranesi, well-known among architects for his surreal style and use of incomplete shapes.

Ms. Greer’s concept? A slick-surfaced, multihole, half-pipe design inlaid with a graphic inspired by a Piranesi etching of Rome.

Ms. Greer said the most difficult part of the project came en route to the Building Museum, when her creation fell off a delivery truck.

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