Last month the Cooper Hewitt Smithsonian’s Design Museum opened its doors after three-years-long renovation period. A process that went beyond walls, halls and objects to affect the very inner meaning (and mission) of the design museum itself. The result was quite interesting: the birth of a new organization “[something] between a media and a tech firm, […] a Thing That Puts Stuff on the Internet”, a new structure capable to links objects that should live forever and people who want to interact with them in a new way (thanks to the superpowers granted by the technology) .
This radical philosophical led to the adoption of a “magic tool” (a pen) that allow future visitors to save their favourites works in a personal repository which will grow with each new visit. A database users can play with.
Next to every object on-display at the Cooper Hewitt is a small pattern that looks like the origin point of the coordinate plane. When the pen touches it, the digital record of that object is added to the visitor’s personal museum collection. When they leave, they will have to return the pen, but information about and high-resolution photos of the object will be waiting for them. […]
But the real treats are in the museum’s interactives that draw from its collection. There’s an “immersion room,” which projects patterns from the museum’s expansive wallpaper archive on the wall. Visitors can also draw their own patterns in there too, which tessellate on the projected walls like the original historical decorations. There are also large, “social” touch-screen tables—think of giant iPads—that let people alone or in groups sort through and look at objects in the collection. These have special search and manipulation features: Someone can draw a shape on the table and see what items in the collection fit it. And the pen—the jewel of the museum’s collection-based interactives—will function as a pen on these touch surfaces. The pen is the exact kind of object that the museum hopes to deploy in the mansion, as it augments a smartphone without requiring one.
All three of these tools […] used an infrastructure […] that lets the museum plan for the near future, that lets it bridge digital and physical, that lets it Put Things on the Internet: the API.
What the API means, for someone who will never visit the museum, is that every object, every designer, every nation, every era, even every color has a stable URL on the Internet. No other museum does this with the same seriousness as the Cooper Hewitt. If you want to talk about Van Gogh’s Starry Night online, you have to link to the Wikipedia page. Wikipedia is the best permanent identifier ofStarry Night-ness on the web. But if you want to talk about an Eames Chair, you can link to the Cooper Hewitt’s page for it.
The Cooper Hewitt isn’t the only museum in the world with an API. The Powerhouse has one, and many art museums have uploaded high-quality images of their collections. But the power of the Cooper Hewitt’s digital interface is unprecedented. There’s a command that asks for colors as defined by the Crayola crayon palette. Another asks if the snack bar is open. A third mimics the speech of one of the Labs members. It’s a fun piece of software, and it makes a point about the scope of the museum’s vision. If design is in everything, the API says, then the museum’s collection includes every facet of the museum itself.
Read the full article on The Atlantic.