The Cooper Hewitt Design Museum Has Finally Reopened, And It Is Fantastic!

The renovated Cooper Hewitt Smithsonian Design Museum in NYC

For more than six years the Cooper Hewitt, the venerable design museum housed in Andrew Carnegie's almost absurdly magnificent mansion on Fifth Avenue, has been in the throes of on exhaustive, $91 million redesign, renovation, reinvigoration. No part of the old building and its lovely grounds has gone untouched–in fact, the museum's been physically closed since 2011, staging sporadic exhibitions on Governors Island and the United Nations in the interim–so when the Cooper Hewitt, Smithsonian Design Museum (note new name, too) reopened its stately wooden doors again earlier this month, it was actually a pretty big deal. And I must say, based on a long afternoon spent roaming the newly reconfigured rooms and playing with most of the many interactive touch-screen features, the entire project is a huge success.  

Cooper Hewitt Smithsonian Design Museum touch screen tables.

Cooper Hewitt, A Modernized and Impressive Design Museum 

There is a new energy here at the Cooper Hewitt, fueled by the unashamed embrasure of contemporary bells and whistles, activities and games. The range of stuff you can "do" here now at the Cooper Hewitt is impressive. There are a dozen or so large touch screen tables, on which you can, for example, improve upon the design of the basic backpack, or prescription pill bottle; or simply view the museum's entire collection, to find what inspires you personally. There's a fun Sketchbot, which takes your photograph and then draws the image in the sand (emailing you the result before it gets erased to make room for the next guest), which stands next to a 3D information simulator I guess you'd call it, a device almost like a carnival game–you manipulate a tightly-packed box of tiles up and down in different patterns to move around a red ball–which illustrates complex phenomena such as traffic patterns, mathematical equations, and waves.

Cooper Hewitt Smithsonian Design Museum immersion room wallpapers.

The Smithsonian Brings an Encompassing Tech Museum to NYC

Best of all though, among the new tech-y installations, is the Immersion Room, where you can instantly project (and manipulate) any of the hundreds of wallpaper patterns in the Cooper Hewitt collection or, better still, create your own with a simple yet robust interface. This is really well done, totally addictive, and fantastic for photo-ops and the inevitable selfies (which, by the way, the once-staid institution now encourages throughout, understanding that having good Instagram game is half the battle for winning over new generations). Note: the much-vaunted "Pen" is not quite ready yet, but when it's handed out to guests in "early 2015" it will allow you both to interact with all various kiosks and tables as well as store your data, keeping a record of your visit that you can build upon in subsequent excursions.     

Cooper Hewitt Smithsonian Design Museum Ortega Tools.

Cooper Hewitt Offers a Classical Experience

As for the more physical exhibitions during the redesign's inaugural run, there's a terrific show on the evolution of tool design (over the course of 1.85 million years!) on the third floor, punctuated by Damien Ortega's Controller of the Universe, an "explosion" of hammers and axes and saws and such in the middle of the room. I also enjoyed "Beautiful Users" on the first floor, which clearly shows how design is increasingly driven by ergonomic concerns; rather than forcing people to adapt to and/or figure out how to use a given object, things are, more and more, created to fit comfortably within the life and "shape" of the user. And overall the arrangement of the gallery space within the old mansion is just better now, with wide open rooms as well as long aisles of objects arranged by color, or shape, or purpose, all used to good affect, giving pieces from the Cooper Hewitt's permanent collection the space they deserve. Well worth a visit or three this coming year.        


Cooper Hewitt Hours

The Cooper Hewitt, Smithsonian Design Museum is located on 92nd Street and Fifth Avenue, and is open daily from 7:30 a.m. to 6:00 p.m., except for Saturdays, when it stays open until 9:00. For lots more information about everything, see here. 


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