Cooper Hewitt Museum Lets Visitors Draw On The Walls

Cooper Hewitt Museum Lets Visitors Draw On The Walls
Arts & Culture

Visitors can use a digital pen to curate their own collection, create designs and share their experience online.

Vashti Hallissey
  • 24 june 2014

Many great designs begin by putting pen to paper and the Cooper Hewitt, Smithsonian Design Museum has created a fitting tribute to this with a digital pen that visitors can use to explore the collection and to project their own designs onto the museum walls.

“The pen is really a radical approach to changing visitors into participants. We want people in the Museum to learn about design by playing designer. Handing people a pen as they walk in says that they are literally able to draw on the walls, and create their own designs,” Jake Barton, principal and founder of Local Projects told PSFK.


Manhattan’s Andrew Carnegie Mansion, once home of the famed industrialist turned philanthropist, was built in 1902 and has been home to the Smithsonian’sCooper-Hewitt, National Design Museum since 1976. It has been closed to the public since 2011, undergoing years of intensive years of restoration and rebuilding to adapt it to the modern day.

When it reopens on 12 December this year, the 112th anniversary of the day that Andrew Carnegie moved in, it will boast 60% more gallery space, a new name – the Cooper Hewitt, Smithsonian Design Museum – and a new font. Most excitingly, it will feature an interactive visitor experience enhanced by immersive technology.

The Pen, which is central to this experience, was designed by Local Projects with Diller Scofidio + Renfro and created by GE, Sistel Networks and Undercurrent. This collaborative creative process and the interactivity of the Pen are in keeping with the spirit of the museum.

“Funnily enough, this high tech innovation really returns the Cooper-Hewitt to its historic roots, where the collection was known as a “working collection.” It was a group of objects that were meant to help aspiring designers learn how to create their own designs,” Jake Barton told us.

The Pen can read data about objects on display and store it in an ‘on-board memory’ which visitors can access using ultra-high-definition tables in the museum galleries. Using the pen to navigate, they can explore the collection, learn about the context, designers or design processes behind them, watch and share videos and create their own designs.

The pen’s stylus tip makes it easy to draw and trace with and visitors are invited to share their own handiwork in the Immersion Room. This is a new space in which people can digitally explore the wallpaper collection and also project their own designs onto the walls.

This new experience continues outside of the museum. Visitors can access and share the content they stored during their visit online. These can be added to on the next visit, so that visitors can build up a huge database of design inspiration.

For Jake Barton, the Pen allows visitors to engage with the museum in a way that that they can’t with mobiles.

“The pen is trying to draw people towards their own creativity and a social experience of making and sharing within the Museum. Museums will continue to engage people on their mobile phones, but the Cooper-Hewitt it really leading the way to say to visitors ‘look to the collection, and to your own interest in making design first and foremost’,” he told us.

The Cooper Hewitt’s renovation promises to make the museum experience much more participatory. Let’s hope that other galleries and museums follow suit, using interactive technology to let visitors to go from being consumers of content to curators and creators.

The New Cooper Hewitt Experience

[h/t] artnet news

Images: © 2014 Cooper Hewitt, Smithsonian Design Museum

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