Cooper Hewitt, Smithsonian Design Museum
2 E 91st St, New York, NY 10128, USA
|⏰ Opening Hours
10:00 AM - 6:00 PM
|💸 Entrance Fee
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What is Cooper Hewitt, Smithsonian Design Museum?
Well, let me tell you about a place where creativity, innovation, and history blend seamlessly—the Cooper Hewitt, Smithsonian Design Museum. Situated in the bustling city of New York, Cooper Hewitt is the only museum in the United States devoted exclusively to historic and contemporary design. With an expansive collection that spans centuries and embraces all aspects of design—from graphic and fashion to decorative arts and architecture—it’s a place where design enthusiasts and novices alike can find something that speaks to their aesthetic and intellectual curiosity.
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Located in the iconic Carnegie Mansion on Fifth Avenue, the museum's surroundings are as steeped in grandeur as the pieces it houses. And, as your guide, I'll let you in on a little secret: the experience of just walking through the mansion's rooms is as much a part of the museum's charm as its exhibits. With interactive components and a forward-thinking approach to exhibition, Cooper Hewitt doesn't just show design; it immerses you in it.
History of Cooper Hewitt, Smithsonian Design Museum
The story of Cooper Hewitt is as rich as the history of American design itself. The museum was founded in 1897 by Sarah and Eleanor Hewitt, granddaughters of industrialist Peter Cooper. Initially part of the Cooper Union for the Advancement of Science and Art, the museum was designed as a resource for students to learn about design and craftsmanship. Its beginnings were rooted deeply in education and accessibility, principles that still inform its mission today.
In 1967, the museum became part of the Smithsonian Institution, greatly expanding its reach and resources. Since then, it has undergone various renovations, the most significant of which concluded in 2014. This modernization effort not only expanded the usable exhibit space within the Carnegie Mansion but also incorporated technology to enhance the visitor experience, allowing for a greater interplay between the museum's historical foundations and its future-facing ambitions.
One of the more personal facets that many aren't aware of is the care that the museum took to preserve Andrew Carnegie’s residential essence. Though the rooms are filled with design wonders, they maintain a homey atmosphere that Carnegie himself would recognize. This duality between exhibit space and living quarters adds a subtle, yet captivating, layer to the museum's character.
Why is Cooper Hewitt, Smithsonian Design Museum Important?
To understand the importance of Cooper Hewitt, one must look at the broader impact of design on society. As the sole museum in the U.S. dedicated to this field, Cooper Hewitt plays a crucial role in archiving and showcasing design's multifaceted nature. It symbolizes the marriage of form and function, aesthetic and practical, historical and modern. Its collection includes over 210,000 design objects that transcend time and discipline, providing a comprehensive view of design's evolution and its pervasive influence on our daily lives.
Many visitors leave with a newfound appreciation for the mundane—a chair, a doorknob, a user interface. Cooper Hewitt is a catalyst for education, discussion, and inspiration, giving visitors the tools to look at the world through a design lens. Furthermore, its dedication to making design accessible to all aligns with the Smithsonian's goal to "increase and diffuse knowledge," serving as an educational hub for designers, students, and the general public.
What's often overlooked but incredibly significant is the museum's commitment to contemporary design, hosting exhibitions that question and shape current trends and societal norms. It's a space where critical issues like sustainability, inclusivity, and innovation are not only discussed but actively championed through design. Cooper Hewitt weaves these threads into a dynamic narrative that provokes thought and inspires action.
Things to Do & See at Cooper Hewitt, Smithsonian Design Museum
Beyond exploring the museum's permanent collection, which is vast and varied, there are several must-see exhibitions and activities at Cooper Hewitt that I personally recommend. Engage with the interactive 'Pen', which allows you to digitally collect designs as you move through the galleries—an innovative way to remember your favorites and explore them later. Special exhibitions rotate regularly, focusing on specific designers, historical movements, or thematic explorations of contemporary issues.
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Often overlooked, the museum's garden is a hidden gem, especially in the spring and summer. The Arthur Ross Terrace and Garden provide a green oasis in the city, perfect for reflecting on the designs you've seen or simply taking a break from the urban hustle. The garden also hosts occasional outdoor installations and events. And, if you’re keen on digging deeper, attend a workshop, a lecture, or an educational program—activities that Cooper Hewitt regularly offers to stimulate creative minds.
Another delightful aspect often missed by a typical visitor is the Process Lab—an area designed to ignite your own design thinking by pushing you to solve problems and create your own design solutions. Lastly, make sure to visit the museum shop, always brimming with design objects that allow you to carry a piece of inspiration back home. Whether you fancy a quick-designed souvenir or an intricate piece of home decor, it's a chance to own a slice of design excellence.