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NYC fall exhibit guide: architecture and design on display

From a blockbuster look at the city to an overview of refugee architecture

The fall flip in the cultural calendar brings number of new and intriguing exhibits about architecture, urbanism, and design to New York, including an overview of the city’s sometimes unruly evolution and a timeline of modern interior design, complete with re-created rooms from the early 20th century.

"How Should We Live? Propositions for the Modern Interior"

Museum of Modern Art (MoMA), opens October 1

A new exhibition at MoMA argues that the social shifts that kicked off changes in our domestic spaces began in the late ’20s and ’30s, when a cadre of radial designers and architects—often women who haven’t fully gotten their due—reshaped space in a way that still influences modern life. Ideas of efficiency, free-flowing space, modern materials, and better design unshackling us from household drudgery—still part of the dialogue today—were pioneered generations ago by designers and architects such as Margarete Schütte-Lihotzky, Lilly Reich, and Eileen Gray. The highlight of the exhibit is a series of rebuilt and recreated interiors, including the Frankfurt Kitchen (1926–27) and Lilly Reich and Mies van der Rohe’s Velvet and Silk Café (1927).

"By the People: Designing a Better America"

Cooper Hewitt Smithsonian Design Museum, through February 26, 2017

When curator Cynthia E. Smith started formulating an exhibit on how design can help communities across the country, she planned an extensive research trip. Her on-the-ground research for this look at ingenious, grassroots solution to urban design, reads like the schedule of a progressive politician trying to rally a country looking for change. Solutions from post-industrial cities, sprawling metropolises, struggling rural towns, border regions, and areas impacted by natural and man-made disaster show how some of the nation’s most entrenched issues are being tackled with DIY solutions.

"Monumental Lhasa: Fortress, Palace, Temple"

Rubin Museum of Art, through January 9, 2017

Much of Tibet’s singular architecture fell victim to the Cultural Revolution, meaning our knowledge of the country’s unique style is partial at best. This exhibit pulls together a variety of sources—pilgrimage paintings showing early Buddhist religious sites, black-and-white photos from early Western visitors, and sketches—to create a multi-angle look at buildings few have seen in person. "It’s so valuable to see what these buildings looked like before the middle of the 20th century," says curator Natasha Kimmet. "Many of these images come from a period where the doors were closed, and Westerners couldn’t even enter Tibet."

"Authenticity and Innovation"

Center for Architecture, through January 14, 2017

Curated by Donald Albrecht of the Museum of the City of New York, this exhibit will focus on 28 different sites, from an abandoned trolley terminal turned underground park to a former barrel factory turned luxury hotel. The idea is to look at the cultural, economic, environmental, and architectural implications of these various structures. Historic images and renderings are complemented by a series of photographs by Robert Stephenson, which show off how the older structures fulfilled their modern potential.

"Mastering the Metropolis"

Museum of the City of New York, opens November 9

As the New York Times has expertly shown in a series of recent articles, this city crowded, urban jungle of buildings is more of a pruned garden, thanks to the city’s revolutionary zoning code. This exhibit will showcase how some of the signature features of the city, such as the setback skyscraper, came into existence, and how the code continues to shape New York as is evolves.

"Insecurities: Tracing Displacement and Shelter"

Museum of Modern Art (MoMA), opens October 1

Refugee crises around the world make this extensive look at the architecture of these temporary settlements an incredibly timely exhibit. A vast array of designs, from in-the-field shelters and villages to conceptual ideas, provide a look at the scope of this political, social, and design challenge.

"New York at Its Core"

Museum of the City of New York, opens November 18

This highly-touted new exhibit promises to tell the story of the city at a scale that hasn’t been done before; a series of interactive exhibitions and more than 400 items from the museum’s collection will be arranged as part of an exhibit that’s five years in the making. Visitors will be able to "digitally meet" famous New Yorkers of the past, play with an interactive display showcasing future challenges and changes, and view unique memorabilia, such as a field drafting set owned by Calvert Vaux, a Studio 54 guest list, and Milton Glaser’s original concept sketch for the "I Heart New York" campaign.