After three years of extensive renovations, New York's Cooper Hewitt, the Smithsonian's design museum, has re-opened to the public. Occupying Andrew Carnegie's 64-room turn-of-the-century mansion on what is now New York’s Museum Mile, the museum offers 60 percent more exhibition space to showcase one of the most diverse and comprehensive collections of design works for public viewing.
Exterior of the Cooper Hewitt museum
Ten inaugural exhibitions and installations, many of which draw from the museum’s permanent collection of more than 210,000 objects from 30 centuries, will feature more than 700 objects throughout the museum's four floors. What's more, for the first time in the museum’s history, the entire first floor will be dedicated to showcasing the permanent collection.
Ribbon cutting ceremony during the museum's grand re-opening
“With the unveiling of the newly transformed Cooper Hewitt, the public will access spaces completely reimagined for 21st-century audiences,” said Caroline Baumann, the museum's director. “The museum’s dynamic exhibition program, enhanced by interactive experiences that draw the visitor into the design process, will shape how people think about the power of design and, ultimately, understand its capability to solve real-world problems.”
The transformation of the circa 1899 Carnegie Mansion into a 21st-century museum is an astonishing work of design in itself. As such, the project called upon 13 design firms to plan the space, including Beyer Blinder Belle Architects & Planners, LLC; Gluckman Mayner Architects and Diller Scofidio + Renfro.
Restored Krueger Grand Staircase
The spirit and character of the landmark building were preserved, with key elements restored to their original grandeur. Much-needed system upgrades were made, allowing for the reduction of exhibition installation time as well as the ability to better accommodate the movement of objects and expand public access on every level.
“The opening of Cooper Hewitt is a seminal moment for the Smithsonian in New York City,” said Wayne Clough, secretary of the Smithsonian. “The inaugural exhibitions showcase the astonishing breadth of Cooper Hewitt’s collection. I am excited about this new chapter of the museum’s history as it continues to serve the public through innovative education and outreach programs.”
Floor by floor, the 10 inaugural exhibitions and installations at Cooper Hewitt prompt and answer key questions at the heart of design. Read on for a selection of exhibition highlights.
Tools: Extending Our Reach exhibition
Debuting on the third floor, a the versatile 6,000-sf space called Barbara and Morton Mandel Design Gallery, is “Tools: Extending Our Reach” (on view Dec. 12 through May 25), which explores how tools extend human bodies, senses and overall capacity to interact with and change our environments.
Making Design exhibition
The second floor features four exhibitions highlighting aspects of Cooper Hewitt’s renowned collection, including “Making Design” (on view Dec. 12 through to the end of 2015), which brings together more than 350 objects for the museum’s first long-term presentation of works from its collection. There is also “Hewitt Sisters Collect” (on view Dec. 12 through the end of 2015), the first exhibition to share the story of Sarah and Eleanor Hewitt, who, in 1897, established a museum within Cooper Union modeled after the Musée des Arts Décoratifs in Paris and the V&A in London, which later became the basis of Cooper Hewitt’s collection. “Passion for the Exotic: Lockwood de Forest, Frederic Church” (on view Dec. 12 through September) evokes the fascination of late-19th-century America with the arts of India, while the “Models and Prototypes Gallery” (on view Dec. 12 through the end of 2015) boasts the inaugural installation of 18th and 19th-century staircase models.
“Beautiful Users” (on view Dec. 12 through April 26) premieres in the new Design Process Galleries on the first floor and demonstrates the shift toward user-centric design based on observations of human anatomy and behavior.
The new Process Lab allows visitors the opportunity to brainstorm design solutions through hands-on and digital activities. For example, visitors can create wallpaper design sketches on tablets which will then be projected onto the wall. The goal of the Process Lab is to emphasize how design is a way of thinking, planning and problem solving.
The Immersion Room, also on the second floor, digitally displays more than 200 pieces from Cooper Hewitt’s collection of wallcoverings, one of the largest in North America, and allows visitors to select their favorites (or draw their own designs), to project onto the gallery's walls.
Also on the first floor, the guest-curated “Maira Kalman Selects” (on view Dec. 12 through June 14) is an assemblage of objects from Cooper Hewitt, other Smithsonian collections and the artist’s own home.
On the ground floor, “Designing the New Cooper Hewitt” reveals the process behind three years of renovation and transformation at the museum from the perspective of the design firms involved in the project, plus Irma Boom who designed the museum’s first collection handbook since 1997.
Cooper Hewitt's shop and cafe
The museum has also re-opened gift shop and café, the latter of which is operated by Tarallucci e Vino. Unique items on sale in in the shop include a glow-in-the-dark edition of Making Design, the Irma Boom-designed limited-edition handbook of the museum’s collection; a suite of designs by Boym Partners that features a Carnegie mansion made of emoticons; and a special series of plates, mugs and trays in collaboration with notNeutral, which was inspired by the museum’s extensive textile collection.
The Cooper Hewitt, Smithsonian Design Museum is located at 2 East 91st Street in Manhattan. Museum hours are 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. on weekdays and Sundays and 10 a.m. to 9 p.m. on Saturdays.