Monitoring the crowds outside the Guggenheim during the heavily trafficked Museum Mile Festival, I was repeatedly asked to provide directions to the Cooper Hewitt Design Museum. Flummoxed, I pointed the visitors towards a security guard standing nearby. I had previously thought the Guggenheim, located on 89th street, was the upmost point of the traditional “Museum Mile.” My curiosity prevailed, and after the closing of the event, I walked further up the Upper East Side until I reached the Cooper Hewitt Smithsonian Design Museum. Excited at this new discovery, I was determined to visit the institution in the following weeks during its operating hours.
Undergoing a major reopening in 2014, the Cooper Hewitt is an under-trafficked and under-appreciated cultural institution on the Upper East Side. The Museum, which focuses entirely on historic and contemporary design, opened in 1897. Committed to collecting art of the everyday, the Museum has amassed a robust permanent collection of furniture, wall hangings, and décor. The Museum collection chronicles how design aesthetics evolve and morph in response to contemporary tastes. Embracing technological innovation, the Cooper Hewitt provides each visitor an interactive stylus to record his or her unique design preferences.
The forth floor exhibition “Provocations: The Architecture and Design of Heatherwick Studio” complements the Museum’s other offerings by detailing the process as well as the product of design. Juxtaposing photographs of finished structures with digital and physical models, the exhibition emphasizes the iterative nature of the creative process. Fanciful constructions such as the Snail Bridge and the cauldron for the London 2012 Olympic Games Torches, which began as abstract conceptions, slowly materialize into feasible actualities and much later into physical structures. It is mesmerizing to observe the process of innovation in which the failure of first prototypes evolves into the success of practical architectural marvels. Heatherwick Studio’s architectural creations highlight the collaborative and responsive nature of design; they illustrate that it requires the open interchange of ideas, which are derived from a spattering of beautiful minds, to craft a singular structure of unprecedented beauty.