A High-Wire Act at the National Building Museum Great Hall

Philippe Petit has walked his high wire across Paris, Frankfurt, at Lincoln Center and the Notre Dame Cathedral.

A film called “Man on Wire” depicting his bare-knuckled, 1974 passage between Manhattan’s Twin Towers won an Academy Award for Best Documentary in 2009.

Now he’s bringing his show to the National Building Museum in Washington, D.C. He’ll be walking across the center of the Great Hall there, north to south, 50 feet above the fountain below. It will be a 25-minute spectacle spanning 96 feet, designed to call attention not only to the 73-year-old’s bravado, but to great architecture and design.

And he’ll do it twice.

For starters, there’s a fundraiser on Thursday evening, March 23, preceded by cocktails and dinner. It’s designed to raise money for a future exhibition on children’s books at the museum. The high wire act is slated to follow dinner.

On Friday morning, March 24, Petit will take another walk, this one for the children of D.C.’s Title I schools – the underserved, low-income students of the city. “He loves focusing on kids, and those in particular,” says Cathy Frankel, the museum’s vice president for exhibitions and collections. “He’ll demonstrate his dramatic skills in the evening, and engage the kids on Friday.”

The events have been a year and a half in the making. Petit’s had his eye on D.C. for years now, calling on a friend to scope out potential sites there. “He’d been holding onto drawings of our building for several years,” she says. “I had a call with Philippe and his manager, and we did the due diligence to make sure things were done properly and safely.”

Petit’s on site today, building his platforms and stretching his ropes. “This is an historic building and we have to make sure they’re attached properly and that we’re protecting the building as well,” she says. “That way, we’ll be ready on Thursday night.”

Calling attention to the spectacular interior elements of the Great Hall is not new, but it is important. The idea is to activate the space and help people contemplate the nature of design, whether it’s classical or modern. “It’s about the built environment and great architecture,” she says. “Over 40 years, there’s been a Frank Gehry installation, then a barn raising, and summer installations like Jeanne Gang’s.

Four hundred people will be on hand for each performance, for a total of 800. It won’t be live-streamed, but there video will be available.

So prepare to be amazed.

For more, go here.