For architecture enthusiasts, a visit to the Cooper Hewitt Smithsonian Design Museum on New York City’s Upper East Side is already a treat, as it’s located in the former mansion of Andrew Carnegie. The New York City (and national) landmark is also the first and only museum in America dedicated to design. There are over 200,000 objects, covering 30 centuries of innovation.
A new episode in Treasures of New York on WNET/THIRTEEN focuses on this special museum that reopened in December 2014 following a 3-year, $91 million renovation. Treasures of New York: Cooper Hewitt focuses on collective effort of architects, designers, technologists and others to achieve the modernization and expansion of the museum.
The video begins with a recap of what design is, using some of the iconic pieces in the collection from the more mundane clothing pin to an early camera to the first iPhone. “Design is the creation of single everything around you,” the video opens with a interviewee, while another states that covers things from cups and saucers design to city streets to space missions to how people work together. Another states, “Design is quite spiritual. It actually enables you to do things on a day to day basis.”
The renovation of the museum was a holistic one–updating the structural and decorative elements of the Carnegie mansion, a 1902 Gilded Age Georgian revival brick home, while rethinking the experience of the museum for the 21st century. The newest innovation in the latter is a pen, that enables visitors to scan information but also to literally draw on the walls and installations (digitally). Design firms worked on making the museum interactive and creating a new graphic design identity. Accessibility was the key mission of Cooper Hewitt: “Our collection is your collection, our typeface is your typeface, our mansion is your mansion,” says Caroline Baumann, director of Cooper Hewitt.
The video shows the beautiful interiors of the Carnegie mansions, photographs of how the building was gutted down to the steel beams, the updating of internal infrastructure, and the hand-restoration of the decorative details. Offices, storage facility and library archive were relocated to other facilities, freeing up 60,000 square feet for new gallery space–with an overall increase of 60% in space. Interiors were redesigned by New York architecture firm Diller, Scofidio + Renfro.
A freight elevator was added for the first time, concealed through a recreation of a historic wall. This 2000-pound, wood paneled wall pivots open and allows for faster turnover between exhibitions.
The episode, which also covers the history of the Cooper Hewitt museum, is available online in full and airs again this week on both WLIW21 and Thirteen.