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Smithsonian's Cooper-Hewitt Unveils Renovation/Expansion Design
Third Floor Gallery. Rendering of the new Third Floor Gallery, 2008. Image courtesy of Aniphase.

NEW YORK.- The Smithsonian’s Cooper-Hewitt, National Design Museum today announced design plans for enlarged and enhanced facilities for exhibitions, collections display, education programming and the National Design Library, with construction slated to begin in January 2009. The expansion is part of a $64 million capital campaign, which will unfold in two phases, and, to date, $37 million has been raised, 57 percent of the campaign goal.

“Design is a vast subject and one of growing interest to audiences today. In order to accommodate the increase in visitorship in recent years, and to do justice to the many different disciplines of design, the museum needs more gallery space,” said Director Paul Thompson. “The museum is witnessing growing enrollment in its master’s program in the History of Design and Decorative Arts, and it needs more classroom space and modernized facilities for the National Design Library. All of these goals will be achieved with this ambitious renovation project.”

Phase one involves reprogramming and renovating the museum’s East 90th Street townhouses in order to free administrative space within the Carnegie Mansion and increase gallery space by 70 percent. The renovation of the townhouses is fully funded and will begin in January 2009. The second phase involving mansion restoration and the creation of a new 7,000-square-foot gallery is more than 50-percent funded and will commence following the renovation of the townhouses.

“Cooper-Hewitt’s strategy, creating new space out of its existing footprint, is a sound one,” said Richard Kurin, Smithsonian Acting Under Secretary for History, Art, and Culture. “Every element of this project improves how the museum delivers its mission and programs to the public.”

New Public Spaces
Cooper-Hewitt’s redesign focuses on adapting a 20th-century historic house to meet the needs of a 21st-century museum. It involves a program of extensive historic preservation, which will work within the preservation parameters established by executive architect Beyer Blinder Belle, and will aim for Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design certification.

The renovation project will almost double Cooper-Hewitt’s exhibition space, as well as reconfigure conservation and collection-storage facilities. Through reprogramming of portions of the mansion and the adjacent townhouses, the project will increase the museum’s total exhibition space from approximately 10,000 square feet to 17,000 square feet.

Major components of the project include the following:
• A spectacular, new 7,000-square-foot gallery—the largest, most versatile gallery space in the museum—on the third floor.

• Restored first-floor galleries dedicated to showing the museum’s permanent collection.

• Restored historic features of the Carnegie Mansion including the Tiffany-glass canopy, exterior masonry restoration, wrought-iron fence and upgraded lighting and signage systems.

• A new National Design Library in the townhouses on East 90th Street, with reading and study areas, full Wi-Fi access, reception and reference spaces, a workroom, open stacks and a rare-book room.

• A new off-site facility provides the museum with the option to expand collection storage, plan for growth, improve care and conservation and digitize the collection. Twenty percent of the permanent collection, representing the most significant and frequently researched objects, will remain at the current campus as a core resource for graduate students and scholars.

• Expanded and upgraded facilities for exhibition preparation will accelerate the installation of new exhibitions, enabling the museum to remain open all 12 months, without long transition periods between exhibitions.

The entire 4,000 square feet of first-floor galleries will be allocated to the display of works from Cooper-Hewitt’s permanent collection—an increase of 400 percent. At present, Cooper-Hewitt devotes 800 square feet to rotations of its permanent collection in the Nancy and Edwin Marks Gallery.

The renovated first-floor galleries will tell the story of design, using masterworks from all of the curatorial departments, and explain how objects, landscapes and buildings are conceived, made and used and will outline how designers transform our social, cultural and economic worlds. Unlike traditional displays of decorative arts within an encyclopedic museum of art, which typically segregate objects by media, geography or chronology, Cooper-Hewitt’s collection galleries will mix product types and media, compelling the visitor to view each object through a design lens. These galleries will be a prerequisite entry point for all museum visitors, preparing them for the more diverse themes explored in the temporary exhibition galleries housed on the second and third floors.

Among the detailed restoration work being guided by Beyer Blinder Belle, and the intricate intertwining of new mechanical services and elevators, will be a new contemporary east stair that connects all three levels of galleries. The most visible architectural changes in the mansion will be this central stair and the new third-floor galleries. The stair design will be sympathetic to the character of the building, yet unify the disparate floors of the museum and facilitate public circulation. The new third-floor gallery will be transformed into a versatile and neutral vessel into which the museum can exhibit a wide range of temporary shows. The gallery will allow visitors to comprehend the scale of large industrially designed objects in a contemporary, open and unconstrained space.

“Our role is to preserve the magnificence of the landmark Carnegie Mansion while creating a facility capable of delivering all the needs of a present-day museum, and that entails everything from elevators and loading bays to gallery lighting systems,” said design architect Richard Gluckman. “Some of the most thrilling spaces in the world are contemporary interventions within historic structures, where one walks from the old into the new. The new third-floor gallery will represent an architecture of our time, sensitively inserted within the rich historic fabric of the mansion.”

The Capital Campaign
The capital campaign, the largest in the museum’s history, supports three main goals: the renovation of the museum’s landmark facility, the development of the museum’s Web site and the growth of the endowment. The capital campaign will raise $54 million for the renovation of the museum and $10 million for endowment funds to support general operating expenses, education programs, exhibitions and collections.

The endowment will further strengthen Cooper-Hewitt’s financial foundation, which has seen earned and contributed income increase from $5 million to $8 million between FY 2000 and FY 2008. This 58 percent increase has enabled Cooper-Hewitt to reduce its reliance on federal and trust subsidies from 46 percent to 39 percent of the total annual budget. Costs associated with an expanded scope of work, higher-priced construction materials, collection care and management and budget refinement led to an increase to the $43 million campaign goal announced in April 2007.

“Under the leadership of the board of trustees and Director Paul Warwick Thompson, the museum has witnessed exceptional growth and marked the continued achievement of its groundbreaking exhibitions, curatorial leadership, education programming and scholarship,” said board President Jim Rosenthal. “Cooper-Hewitt’s plan to reprogram the historic Carnegie Mansion will better position the museum to serve and accommodate the increased demands for space.”

In addition to major corporate support from Target, leadership gifts have been received from the following donors: Elizabeth and Lee Ainslie; Lily Auchincloss Foundation Inc.; Patricia and Phillip Frost; Connie and Harvey Krueger; Barbara and Morton Mandel; Nancy Marks; The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, in the form of a challenge grant; Enid and Lester Morse; Lisa Roberts and David Seltzer; Arthur Ross Foundation; and Esme Usdan and James Snyder.

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