Cooper Hewitt, Smithsonian Design Museum, reopened Dec. 12 after three-year renovation

Cooper Hewitt, Smithsonian Design Museum – the only museum in the United States devoted exclusively to historic and contemporary design – opened the renovated and restored Carnegie Mansion on Dec. 12. A jewel of New York’s Museum Mile, it offers 60 per cent more exhibition space to showcase one of the most diverse and comprehensive collections of design works in existence.

Ten inaugural exhibitions and installations, many of which draw from the museum’s permanent collection of more than 210,000 objects that span 30 centuries, feature more than 700 objects throughout four floors of the mansion. For the first time in the museum’s history, the entire second floor is dedicated to showcasing the permanent collection through a variety of exhibitions.

Visitors can experience a full range of new interactive capabilities thanks to Bloomberg Connects, Bloomberg Philanthropies’ digital engagement program, including the opportunity to explore the collection digitally on ultra-high-definition touch-screen tables, draw their own designs in the Immersion Room, and solve real-world design problems in the Process Lab. A newly developed Pen, which further enhances the visitor experience through the ability to “collect” and “save” information, will launch in early 2015.

The transformation of the historic Carnegie Mansion (the former residence of Andrew Carnegie) into a 21st-century museum is an astonishing work of design in itself, with an esteemed team of 13 design firms involved. 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 more flexibility to reduce exhibition installation time, better accommodate the movement of objects and, above all, to enhance public access on every level.

The museum includes the new SHOP Cooper Hewitt and a café operated by Tarallucci e Vino. Unique items on sale 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 are inspired by the museum’s extensive textile collection. The café features a greenmarket-inspired menu and opens daily at 7:30 a.m., so neighbuors, tourists and Central Park enthusiasts alike may enjoy a morning coffee in the garden, which will feature an updated landscape design when it opens fulltime for the summer season.

“The opening of Cooper Hewitt is a seminal moment for the Smithsonian in New York City,” says 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.”

“With the unveiling of the newly transformed Cooper Hewitt, the public will access four floors of exhibition galleries – including the first full-floor installation devoted to works from our collection – in spaces completely reimagined for 21st-century audiences,” says Caroline Baumann, director of Cooper Hewitt. “The new Cooper Hewitt is a must-see and must-do destination to experience historical and contemporary design in a way like never before. 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, its capability to solve real world problems.”


Cooper Hewitt opened with a rich mix of exhibitions, taking full advantage of its enhanced, expanded and more flexible gallery space. This includes a fivefold increase in square footage dedicated to the permanent collection, which has enlarged from one gallery to an entire floor.

Floor by floor, the 10 inaugural exhibitions and installations at Cooper Hewitt prompt and answer key questions at the heart of design.

On the third floor, debuting in the versatile new 6,000-square-foot Barbara and Morton Mandel Design Gallery, “Tools: Extending Our Reach” (through May 25, 2015) explores how tools extend the human body, senses, capacity and action – with results that change the world, and also change ourselves.

The second floor features four exhibitions highlighting aspects of Cooper Hewitt’s renowned collection, including “Making Design” (through 2015), which brings together more than 350 objects for the museum’s first long-term presentation of works from its collection; “Hewitt Sisters Collect” (also through 2015), the first exhibition to share the story of Sarah and Eleanor Hewitt, who in 1897 established a museum within Cooper Union modeled on 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” (through September 2015), which evokes the fascination of late 19th-century America with the arts of India; and an inaugural installation of 18th- and 19th-century staircase models in the Models & Prototypes gallery (through 2015), which provides insights into the important role of architectural models and design prototypes.

The new Immersion Room, also on the second floor, features more than 200 examples of Cooper Hewitt’s extraordinary collection of wallcoverings, one of the largest in North America, and allows visitors to select their favourites or draw their own designs, and then project full-scale versions onto the gallery walls.

“Beautiful Users” (through Apr. 26, 2015) 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 behaviour.

A hands-on Process Lab allows visitors to immerse themselves in design practice through physical and digital activities to emphasize how design is a way of thinking, planning and problem solving, and provides a foundation for the rest of the design concepts on view in the museum.

Also on the first floor, the guest-curated “Maira Kalman Selects” (through June 14, 2015) is an assemblage of objects from Cooper Hewitt, other Smithsonian collections and the artist’s own home that suggests a life story, from birth through death.

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.

“Tools” and “Beautiful Users” will be accompanied by fully illustrated catalogues. Other reopening publications include Making Design: Cooper Hewitt, Smithsonian Design Museum Collection, designed by Boom; Life of a Mansion: The Story of Cooper Hewitt, Smithsonian Design Museum; and two books by Kalman, Ah-ha to Zig-Zag: 31 Objects from Cooper Hewitt, Smithsonian Design Museum and My Favorite Things.


Founded in 1897, Cooper Hewitt, Smithsonian Design Museum, is the only museum in the nation devoted exclusively to historic and contemporary design. The museum educates, inspires and empowers people through design, presenting compelling educational programs, exhibitions and publications. International in scope and possessing one of the most diverse and comprehensive collections of design works in existence, the museum’s rich holdings range from Egypt’s Late Period/New Kingdom (1100 B.C.) to the present day and total more than 210,000 objects.

Cooper Hewitt i
s located at 2 East 91st St. at Fifth Avenue in New York City. 

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