Cooper Hewitt Museum – The Senses: Design Beyond Vision

Between 90th and 91st Street and 5th Avenue, just north of the Guggenheim, sits a 64 room mansion with an impressive gated garden.  This mansion, formerly the home of Andrew Carnegie, now houses the Cooper Hewitt Smithsonian Design Museum which is dedicated to historical and contemporary design.

As you enter the museum grounds through the East entrance you pass through iron gates into a lush, tranquil private garden space that you did not imagine in present day New York.  The Arthur Ross Terrace and Garden is open year round to the public free of charge.  It is a very welcoming space – there are patio tables with umbrellas to sit around and a Taralucci e Vino cafe where you can buy snacks or enjoy wine on the terrace.  There are “Spun Chairs” designed in 2010 which keep the kids occupied, c-shaped benches, a ping pong table and a lawn where you can just imagine the amazing Easter eggs hunts of years past.  And that’s just the garden!

Entering the museum from the garden entrance, you pass the gift shop and walk from the “new” part of the museum (renovated 2011-2014) to the “old” – the original mansion with its rich wood paneling and a grand staircase for which you will happily forego the elevator.   At the admissions desk you are given an interactive pen: use the tip to draw and design on the interactive tables or the flat end to save information about the objects you created or designs you find interesting.   The pen is returned at the end of your visit, but when you get home, you can use the code on your ticket stub to access your saved information!  So cool.

I came to the museum with a 5 year old, and while we didn’t have time to explore the entire museum (see paragraph about wine in the garden, above), we saw what we came for:  the hands-on Design Beyond Senses Exhibit.  Walking through the space on the 3rd floor is like going into a wonderland where you are welcome to touch, smell, see, and hear (no tasting, sadly).  There are soft wool balls strung from the ceiling that were infused with the mild scent of “snow”,  scratch and sniff wallpaper, a wall made of pressed flowers, place settings designed to help people with low vision or Alzheimer’s see their food.  There are smelling stations (including one that had the smell of “fear”), and listening stations, even a beautifully designed karaoke machine that you would be proud to display in a chic Manhattan apartment.

Kids have a blast trying to catch feathers in the air fountain, and there was so much to see and do.  There is even a “fur” wall that plays music when you touch it.  This exhibit is highly recommended, and to be honest I will be going back to the museum again at least twice:  once without kids so I can properly explore the museum, and again with my son for a longer period so he can see the other exhibits (and use the interactive pen and tables again!).  Turns out during the summer there is also a “Cocktails at Cooper Hewitt” event every Thursday in the garden….

The Senses: Design Beyond Vision runs through October 28, 2018.

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