Icons Be Gone


Polshek Partnership’s expansion of the Museum of the City of New York.
Aislinn Weidele/Polshek Partnership

While it’s too early to declare the death of the Bilbao effect, many museums are looking beyond highly expressionistic designs to upgrade their physical plants. The Museum of the City of New York (MCNY) and the Cooper-Hewitt National Design Museum, both of which receive public funding, and neither of which are wealthy institutions, have opted for subtle, phased expansions by New York-based museum experts Polshek Partnership and Gluckman Mayner Architects with Beyer Blinder Belle Architects & Planners, respectively.

Polshek recently completed the first phase of MCNY’s expansion, including a new climate controlled gallery (the museum’s first) at the back of the building, as well as a renovated lobby and entrance terrace, and a new curatorial center and storage below ground.

Cooper-Hewitt’s new gallery (top) and library (above).  
courtesy cooper-hewitt

“The renovation is in deference to the old building,” James Polshek told AN by phone from Paris. “It’s a history museum. Those kinds of institutions do not have major collectors with deep pockets on the boards like art museums.” Polshek’s hand is quiet here, so visitors will be drawn by the programming, not necessarily the building. “It now has facilities comparable to the great city museums of the world.” The renovated front terrace, however, which previously contained a formal garden, is likely to become a destination for events. “The museum asked for that. The terrace will become a dynamic place for outdoor exhibits and other functions,” he said.

The Cooper-Hewitt’s galleries are expanding by 7,000 square feet within the landmark Carnegie Mansion’s third floor, and its library and offices are being moved into adjacent townhouses. “They don’t want to denigrate what they have. The mansion is a special feature of the Cooper-Hewitt experience,” said David Mayner, principal of Gluckman Mayner. Circulation will be improved with a new fire stair and much of the museum’s storage is being moved offsite. A new freight elevator will ease installations. “Now crates are often left in the great hall, and sometimes there isn’t much to see when one of the galleries is being hung.” Mechanical systems will be upgraded and a new way-finding system will be developed, though most of this will go unnoticed by the visitor. “That’s fine with us,” he said. Unlike other museums that strive for a “whiz-bang experience with a big opening,” according to Mayner, the Cooper-Hewitt project is “an internal improvement, a reinforcement.”

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