Raise the Roof

OMSI, 1945 SE Water Ave, 797-4537

Raise the Roof is a noisy, pint-sized, hands-on exhibit at OMSI that attempts to make buildings interesting to kids. Imagine the futility of marketing Nest Magazine to the Ranger Rick crowd, and you'll have an idea of what the show is up against. Besides providing a few hundred blocks, flaps, levers, and switches for bratty ankle-biters to slap and fight over, Raise the Roof presents a bizarre and sometimes morbid selection of displays, each pertaining to some aspect of dwellings and structures.

Of course, there is a requisite homage to the Twin Towers, the horrors of whose destruction are glossed over in favor of a binder where visitors can answer the pressing question: "What did the World Trade Center mean to you?"

The curators haven't shied away from senseless death, though, as witnessed by "A Family Tragedy," an illustrated story and miniature cross-section of a three-floor house with movable vents and flaps. Just from the photos that accompany the text--one depicts a family cozied up the couch with their recently graduated son, smiling with disturbing force--you know someone is going to die. Sure enough, "A Family Tragedy" is a stern warning about the hazards of carbon monoxide poisoning. And sure enough, one's imagination need hardly stretch to imagine the nuclear family as rotting corpses, their cheerful smiles ravaged by cruel air pollution.

The show features a traditional Mongolian ger, or yurt, prefaced by a sign vouching for its authenticity. It was a learning experience for me because I wasn't aware that genuine gers came equipped with track lighting and computers with touch-sensitive screens these days.

The crowning moment comes, all sarcasm aside, in a video montage called "And the walls came tumbling down," a four-and-a-half-minute stream of buildings imploding, turning to dust, and vanishing. Baudrillard wrote that building implosions are like the opposite of rocket launches, that their destruction is a good metaphor for regression and anti-civilization. Watching the TNT charges shoot up the building's spines seconds before their collapse, and the buckling of the structures like a boxer's weak knees in the tenth round was entirely captivating. With a little Phillip Glass in the background, this could have been ripped straight from Koyaanisqatsi. Feeling the vicarious thrill of this destruction just a few yards from the somber piece about the World Trade Center was an odd juxtaposition, though, and left me with the overall feeling that more than a few parents will have some strange questions to field at exhibit's end. CHAS BOWIE