The Cooper Hewitt Smithsonian Design Museum will reopen Friday, after a three-year closure for major renovations.

The $91 million, privately funded effort has transformed the museum into a progressive exhibition space while maintaining the sumptuous architecture of the historic Andrew Carnegie Mansion.

"We are a museum of design and we recruited a dream team of designers to develop the new Cooper Hewitt," museum director Caroline Baumann said at a news conference on Tuesday.

A total of 13 design firms worked on the project, from local architects to national and international graphic and tech designers. A 60% space increase is among the restoration's achievements.

With modernized interactive installations and tools, Baumann says the visitor experience has been revolutionized.

"Visitors will have the opportunity to explore the collection digitally on ultra high definition touch-screen tables -- draw their own designs in the Immersion Room and solve real design problems in The Process Lab," she said.

These tables, which vary in size, are featured throughout the museum and have multiple uses.

In the second floor's Immersion Room, for instance, Cooper Hewitt's vast collection of wall coverings are digitally displayed, while visitors design and project their own creations onto the gallery's walls.

In The Process Lab, visitors are presented with objects that have functional design problems, and are encouraged to develop their own solutions, which are shared on the 84-inch touch-screen tables.

The more historic artifacts from the Cooper Hewitt collection are brought into the present by the way the visitor observes and investigates the objects: using the touch-screen tables as an interactive tool for detail and information, as opposed to a staid wall plaque.

Another highlight among the 10 inaugural exhibitions is "Tools: Extending Our Reach," which takes up the entire third floor, previously closed to the public. The 6,000-square-foot space covers 1.85 millions years of tool making.

The diverse range includes items from Paleolithic utensils to an ultramodern -- and extremely entertaining -- "Sketchbot," an interactive robot that photographs museum visitors, before sketching their portraits in sand.

Cooper Hewitt contains the sense of fun and discovery found more often in a science museum than one of history and design.

It is triumphant not only in blending the historic with scientific modernity, but more importantly it draws visitors with varying interests to underexplored aspects of design.

 

2 E. 91st St.
Open Sun.-Fri. 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. and Sat. 7:30 a.m.-9 p.m.
Adults $18, Seniors $12, Students $9, Children under 18 are free
212-849-8400
cooperhewitt.org?