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Front Entrance | Courtesy of the Cooper Hewitt, Smithsonian Design Museum
Front Entrance | Courtesy of the Cooper Hewitt, Smithsonian Design Museum
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The History Of Manhattan's Cooper Hewitt Museum In 1 Minute

Picture of Ryan Parkes
Updated: 20 July 2016
Located on the Upper East Side‘s historic Museum Mile, the seminal Cooper Hewitt, Smithsonian Design Museum is one of only two Smithsonian museums in the city. Founded by the granddaughters of philanthropist Peter Cooper in 1897, Amy Eleanor and Sarah Hewitt set out to establish a collection of decorative arts through the centuries. We take a closer look at the history of the Cooper Hewitt.

The Cooper Hewitt was founded as a pedagogical guide to the world of design, geared towards educating the public – especially students – in this art form, specifically. As ‘the only museum in the nation devoted exclusively to historic and contemporary design,’ the building itself (housed in the Andrew Carnegie Mansion), from its ornate corbels to its embossed exterior, is a stunning example of the Neo-Georgian and Renaissance Revival styles that were popular during the advent of the Upper East Side’s construction.

Images Courtesy of the Cooper Hewitt, Smithsonian Design Museum
Images Courtesy of the Cooper Hewitt, Smithsonian Design Museum

The museum’s vast collections showcase a wide breadth of design and décor, from furniture to metalwork, costumes, instruments, and technology. Many of the exhibitions feature pieces of designed objects used by notable figures, including distinguished politicians and musicians. Currently, an exhibition surrounding the museum’s founders showcases the affluence and culture they brought to New York City through both global decorative objects and pieces native to the city, such as a birdcage modeled after a church in Queens. On view until April 2017, this exhibition displays almost 200 pieces from the founders’ collections.

One of the most enthralling elements of the Cooper Hewitt is the Immersion Room: an interactive space that allows users to display selected wallpapers across the floor and ceiling. As technology supplants and forges new scholastic methodologies, the Cooper Hewitt remains a front-runner in the field, all-the-while maintaining its original mission to educate and fascinate the public.

Adjacent to Museum Mile on Madison and Park Avenues, advertising agencies are using graphic tablets to create a ‘Photoshop’ of images with a digital pen, which has become integral to the museum’s visitor experience. The Cooper Hewitt is working to convert the Pen into a consumer-friendly product. Interactive tables in the Immersion Room allow visitors to step into the roles of would-be designers and edify themselves on this further developing technology. The museum’s Process Lab then allows users to problem solve actual designs relevant to the field.

Alongside a continuous serious of groundbreaking exhibitions, the Cooper Hewitt stands out as one of the most hands-on and practical museums in the city. Exhibitions merge historical and contemporary pieces to showcase the ever-changing, ever-forward nature of design technology.

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