Dear Cooper Hewitt,

Children’s wallpaper?  Really? No seriously, the featured show at THE National Design Museum is about children’s wallpaper? We’re confused. Granted we’re only in Manhattan a couple times per year and we don’t catch each and every show, but the last time we were in town it was nineteenth-century watercolor interiors and before that it was a show on the Rococo style. The Cooper Hewitt is one of the primary reasons we visit Manhattan and for the last several visits the shows have been mickey-mouse. On the last couple of visits we’ve spent more time at Pintaile’s Pizza down the street than at the Cooper Hewitt. What happened to innovative and thought provoking shows like Extreme Textiles and Design ≠ Art. Those were shows we could really sink our teeth into. They were applicable to the design world and out-of-the-box progressive. They pushed the envelope. What happened to Cooper Hewitt’s forward-thinking manifesto and how can we get it back?

You are the national representative for design, and your friends at BUILD are not going to let you proceed down this road. I mean what’s next, a show on the evolution of Victorian doilies? We’re here for you Cooper Hewitt, and to help you pull out of the rut we’ve assembled a list of 5 suggested shows – free of charge.

1. THE EVOLUTION OF UTILITY. The nature of electricity, plumbing and heating have gone relatively unchanged compared to the transformations of the fixtures used to dispense them. The show could focus on the dynamic nature of fixture design and how we interface with the more static nature of electricity, plumbing and heating. The exhibit could span the gamut from the Lifestraw to Zaha Hadid’s kitchen faucet design.

2. NOW THAT WE CAN DESIGN ANYTHING, WHAT NEXT? Architects and Designers have proven throughout the last decade that we can design anything and everything. The rise of a design conscious world has opened up possibilities from well designed heaters by Karim Rashid to rethinking pill bottle labeling by Deborah Adler to Jamie Lerner’s redesign of public transportation in Brazil. With design having proven itself successful on such a wide spectrum what should we, as a society, be focusing our design efforts on now? The show could highlight individuals and groups foraging into new design realms.

3. ARCHITECTS AND DARWINISM: As architects continue to shed direct responsibility on the jobsite they are losing the knowledge of how buildings go together. The role of the architect continues to become more academic, esoteric and theoretical, producing paper exercises rather than built-form. As this continues, some architects will become unnecessary; others will expand their responsibilities and scope to secure a role in the future of architecture. The show could highlight individuals and groups who are taking the next step in the evolution of the architect.

4. INVISIBLE DESIGN: Some of the best design goes unnoticed, some of it is supposed to. Sometimes the best architectural (and engineered) solution is inconspicuous and quiet. With a focus on this theme, the show could review extraordinary projects that might otherwise go unnoticed.

5. ARCHITECTURE WITHOUT ARCHITECTS: In 1964 Bernard Rudofsky wrote a book by this name which not only covered many types of built-form, but also formalized the idea of good design exclusive from the profession of architecture. Since then, 45 years worth of building has occurred and while the built-forms may be different the concept is still as engaging and provoking as presented in the original text. The show could focus on examples from 1964 to the present.

So there is the quick-and-dirty BUILD list of ideas; consider them, throw them out, counter-offer or leave them on the table.  but as much as we like the Cooper Hewitt, 91st Street is a long way up there and time in Manhattan is valuable. We’re not spending anymore time on the greenline for exhibits that don’t address the substance and seriousness of design.


Your friends at BUILD LLC