Top 10 Places For American Contemporary Design You Should Visit

Rachel Gould

Art & Design Editor

The United States is home to some of the world’s best institutions for contemporary design, presenting innovative and ground-breaking exhibitions where form meets function for the common good. Take a look at our list of ten places to find exceptional collections and exhibitions of contemporary design in a variety of mediums, from national and international artists and visionaries.

1. A+D Architecture and Design Museum

Building, Museum

Innovative exhibitions, symposia and relevant projects address theories and issues at the forefront of contemporary architecture, urbanism and design at this Los Angeles-based museum. The A+D Architecture and Design Museum opened its doors in 2001, established to provide a much-needed space for the exhibition of contemporary architecture and design. Currently located within the landmark Bradbury Building and due to move to a new downtown location, the museum remains committed to showcasing the best in contemporary design from all over the world. The current exhibition of local artist Peter Shire showcases his depiction of 20th century architecture met with pop culture in an explosion of color and geometry in Peter Shire: Public Work, Lines of Desire.

2. Chicago Athenaeum Museum of Architecture and Design


As Chicago pioneered architectural modernity, it is thoroughly appropriate that it has inspired one of the best contemporary design institutions in the United States. The Chicago Athenaeum Museum of Architecture and Design showcases ground-breaking designs from the realms of contemporary architecture, landscape architecture, industrial and product design, graphics and urban planning, with a particular emphasis on ‘Good Design’, which aims to positively impact the community. The museum aspires to support its craft and educate the public through innovative exhibitions and international programs, with offices in Dublin, Athens and eventually Hamburg and Berlin. The museum additionally hosts the annual Good Design Awards – a prestigious program that honors the most cutting edge designs and designers in the world.

Cooper Hewitt Smithsonian Design Museum

After the long awaited completion of a lengthy restoration process, New York City’s Cooper Hewitt Smithsonian Design Museum reopened to the public in December 2014. Devoted entirely to the exhibition of historical and contemporary design, the institution has operated out of Andrew Carnegie’s former Upper East Side residence since 1896. The new Cooper Hewitt pulls Carnegie’s grand Georgian estate into the 21st century, preserving the building’s traditional grandeur whilst showcasing the most cutting edge design technology. Accompanied by a uniquely interactive museum experience, visitors can explore a dynamic set of exhibitions, including Beautiful Users, which examines the integration of design into human life over the last five deades, and Making Design, which spans the museum’s extensive collection of over 210,000 objects.

Cooper Hewitt Smithsonian Design Museum, 2 East 91st Street, New York, NY , USA, +1 212 849 8400

Anchored Candy no. 7

3. Museum of Arts and Design


Located in the heart of Columbus Circle, the Museum of Arts and Design showcases cutting edge contemporary design in mixed media from the 1950s to the present day. The museum explores the aesthetics of design as well as its various functions, examining the ways in which design influences – and has historically influenced – contemporary life. World-class exhibitions highlight the conceptual creativity and craftsmanship of design throughout the realms of technology, architecture, fashion, interior design, visual art and the performing arts. In addition, the museum hosts performances, films and seminars as well as studio space for master classes. Current exhibitions celebrate the museum’s visionary founder, Aileen Osborn Webb in What Would Ms. Webb Do?, alongside Maryland to Murano: Neckpieces and Sculptures by Joyce J. Scottand New Territories: Laboratories for Design, Craft and Art in Latin America.

4. Museum of Contemporary Craft


Museum of Contemporary Craft, Portland
Courtesy of Museum of Design Atlanta
Partnered with Pacific Northwest College of Art, the Museum of Contemporary Craft was founded in 1937 to explore the role of craft and design in contemporary culture since modernity. The museum perpetuates a ‘dialogue’ between culture and design through public programming and exhibitions showcasing the work of national and international artists as well as objects from the museum’s 1000-piece collection. The Museum of Contemporary Craft also possesses a separate gallery in which contemporary crafts from ceramics to glass, wood, metal, fiber and mixed media are for sale. Guests can also visit the gallery for artist talks and interactive demonstrations. Upcoming exhibitions will showcase the work of Ed Cauduro and Dane Nelson in Living With Glass alongside Extra Credit: Students Mine the Collection a show curated and installed by art students.

5. Museum of Design Atlanta


Concept and initial design by Yuri Suzuki. Development and design by Dentaku Ltd of Mark McKeague, Joseph Pleass and Yuri Suzuki. Illustration by Naomi Eliott
The Museum of Modern Art, New York.
Formerly known as the Atlanta International Museum of Art & Design, the Museum of Design Atlanta emerged in 2003 in an effort to revamp the former institution’s mission and direction. Through exhibitions, education and programming for adults, students and children, the Museum of Design Atlanta aims to develop and advance the community’s appreciation for design as the intersection of form and function. The museum, which is the only one of its kind in the Southeastern United States, takes a closer look at the influence of design in our daily lives, from the buildings we live and work in to the clothes we wear, the means by which we communicate with one another, and so on. The museum’s current exhibition, Sustainable Shelter: Dwelling in the Forces of Nature, examines the ways in which humans and animals have adapted to their fluctuating environments through the construction of shelter in various forms.

6. Museum of Modern Art

Art Gallery, Building, Museum, Opera House

As a leading institution for contemporary art, the Museum of Modern Art is undoubtedly one of the best places to find contemporary design in the United States. On view until November 2015 is Making Modern Music: Design for Eye and Earwhich looks at musical design aesthetics and technology through the 20th century. The museum is currently working on an experimental online exhibition titled Design and Violence, an extensive curatorial project that will explore the perpetuation of violence in modern day societies through design and technological innovation, thus looking at the ways in which design is as detrimental as it is progressive. The museum additionally has a design store where visitors can purchase a selection of clever contemporary design objects, from eye-catching kitchen wear to one of a kind jewellery.

7. Rhode Island School of Design Museum

Museum, School

© Will Hart/Flickr
Attached to one of the most prestigious design schools in the country, the Rhode Island School of Design (RISD) Museum exhibits and interprets an eclectic range of contemporary design in an effort to educate, engage with and inspire visitors. The RISD Museum draws from Rhode Island’s industrial history and its subsequent need for design technology. Located in the historic East Side of Providence, the RISD Museum now possesses an outstanding permanent collection of contemporary design with year round exhibitions on view. Upcoming shows include the RISD Faculty Biennial which will exhibit the latest work of artists and designers from RISD, and Drawing Ambiance, which will present drawings and sketches by some of the world’s leading contemporary architects to include Frank Gehry, Zaha Hadid, Rem Koolhas, Eduardo Polozzi, and many more.

8. Museum of Craft and Design


The Museum of Craft and Design in San Francisco opened its doors in 2004 to deliver a program of innovative and cutting edge exhibitions and programs within and beyond the local community. The museum aims to serve as a creative, inspiring and collaborative environment in which onlookers engage with the exhibitions presented, whilst simultaneously supporting the role of design in contemporary global culture. The San Francisco Museum of Craft and Design presents exhibitions in all media, showcasing dynamic works of art produced by national and international artists. Current exhibitions include Constructed Communication: Nakayama, Sinbondit, Venom, which explores new voices in sign painting, ceramics and quilting, and Lines That Tie: Carole Beadle and Lia Cookwhich honors the far-reaching impact of two pioneering California College of the Arts (CCA) Textile faculty members, Carole Beadle and Lia Cook.

9. UC Davis Design Museum


Partnered with the UC Davis Department of Design, the UC Davis Design Museum explores the ways in which design influences the world around us from an aesthetic, functional, economic and environmental standpoint. Shows have spanned sustainable wood design in If A Tree Fell, Red Dress: Design Stories for Hearth Health an exhibition of red dresses to raise awareness about cardiovascular disease in partnership with the UC Davis Women’s Cardiovascular Medicine Program, and Connected By a Thread, an exhibition of two Chinese fashion designers with connections to UC Davis. Additionally, the UC Davis Design Museum was one of the first institutions to adopt the Green Museums Accord – a set of five principles that guide museums towards a greener, more responsible future.

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