Architecture: Polshek Partnership (2001)
Exhibition Design: Diller Scofidio+Renfro
The only museum in the United States entirely dedicated to design, the Cooper Hewitt, Smithsonian Design Museum sits prominently on New York’s Fifth Avenue and is housed in what was the home of industrial magnate and philanthropist Andrew Carnegie. It is a Georgian-style mansion built in 1902.
The Carnegie Mansion was transformed into an avant-garde museum while at the same time fully respecting the original characteristics of the historic building, highlighting its grandeur.
The display cases requested were meant to house temporary exhibitions for at least 10 years and had to be flexible enough to adapt to a wide range of design objects – from fabrics to silver objects – and to the mix of period interiors and modern galleries in this historic mansion. The exhibition design is characterized overall by an essential, minimalist design.
Custom display systems were created to be flexible and modular with wall, table and freestanding models that can be assembled with different configurations. The airtight seal used for glass panels guarantees the standards of conservation required for particularly delicate pieces.
The larger display cases have an aluminum framework – as opposed to the Inox steel used in the other cases – to keep their weight down in order to stay within the load-bearing limits of the floors in this historic building.
The metallic parts were kept to a minimum and the engineering components are hidden in the thickness of the glass or included in the joints between the glass plates, making for overall transparency. This is to the benefit of the architectural context and the varying styles of works on display.