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New York museums: architecture and design exhibits to see this summer

The best NYC museum exhibits for architecture and design buffs

Installation view of “The Jazz Age: American Style in the 1920s” at the Cooper Hewitt.
Matt Flynn © Smithsonian Institution

While there are plenty of fun things to do in New York in the summer—beaches, outdoor movies, and the like—sometimes you just want to spend time, well, indoors. (And in air conditioning. That’s important.)

And this summer, architecture and design fiends are in luck: there are quite a few museum exhibits happening throughout the city, with something for every taste. Are you more into Art Deco? The Cooper Hewitt has you covered. Is ’80s style—as in the 1980s—more your thing? Head to the Met Breuer. Frank Lloyd Wright fanatics, meanwhile, will be making pilgrimages to MoMA all season, so plan ahead if you count yourself among their ranks.

Below, get the scoop on six of these exhibits, and mark your calendar accordingly.

“The Jazz Age: American Style in the 1920s”

The 1920s was a time of huge upheaval (socially, economically, you name it) across the globe, and in this exhibit, the Cooper Hewitt does a bang up job exploring how that sea change affected the amorphous notion of “style.” Rather than looking at just one category—fashion, or architecture, or art—the show examines how those different areas all affected one another, and the outside factors that led to their evolution. (As women’s rights gained traction, for example, clothes began to reflect that freedom.)

For New Yorkers and/or architecture geeks specifically, there’s a focus on skyscraper design and how different factors (such as advances in technology, and the introduction of New York’s zoning code of 1916) led to the city’s now-iconic skyline. There are also a bevy of other artifacts, including furniture, textiles, and jewelry, on view. Cooper Hewitt, through August 20.

Fallingwater (Kaufmann House), Mill Run, Pennsylvania. 1934–37. Perspective from the south.
The Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation Archives (The Museum of Modern Art | Avery Architectural & Fine Arts Library, Columbia University, New York)

“Frank Lloyd Wright at 150: Unpacking the Archive”

To celebrate what would have been the pioneering American architect’s 150th birthday, the Museum of Modern Art will present an exhibit that looks at key moments and themes in Wright's life and career. The exhibit’s 12 sections will explore different facets of his career, such as his international inspirations, his thoughts on urbanism, his love for ornamentation, and his status as one of the world’s first true starchitects.

According to the museum, more than 450 objects from the architect's archive will be on view (including drawings, furniture, models, and scrapbooks), spanning the 1890s to his death in the 1950s. The whole shebang debuted on his birthday—it'll be the perfect way to celebrate Wright's legacy. Museum of Modern Art, through October 1.

Folly/Function: Circle Shade – 2πR4

Every year, Socrates Sculpture Park partners with the Architectural League of New York to curate “Folly/Function,” a juried competition whose final product goes on view at the Queens exhibition space.

This year, the winner is Eva Jensen Design, who answered the 2017 call for submissions—to “create four portable, deployable canopy structures for flexible use” in the sculpture park—by taking inspiration from circles. Per the architect’s statement on her winning design, the “dancing discs” use a canopy, poles, and counter weights, creating small coverings that can be moved within the park and grouped together to offer more shade. They’re characterized by “simplicity, transparency, and versatility,” according to Jensen, and they’ll be on view throughout the summer. Socrates Sculpture Park, June 21–October 28.

“Kaneji Domoto at Frank Lloyd Wright's Usonia”

Japanese architect Kaneji Domoto studied under Frank Lloyd Wright at Taliesin and later went on to contribute several homes to the latter’s Usonia community in Pleasantville, New York (one of which, 26 Usonia Road, is pictured above—and is currently for sale).

Now, Domoto is the subject of an exhibit at AIA New York’s Center for Architecture. While the exhibit will, by necessity, get into Domoto’s relationship with Wright—per the description, it will “provide a glimpse at life in Frank Lloyd Wright’s inner circles”—it will also focus on the Japanese architect’s own work. Artifacts on view will include Domoto’s sketches, models, and photos, many of which have never been seen before. AIA Center for Architecture, June 22–August 26.

Jenny Sabin Studio

Young Architects Program 2017: Lumen

The winner of MoMA PS1’s annual Young Architects Program competition is Jenny Sabin Studios, who created a piece that will knit together—quite literally—a few different interesting features. According to the studio, Lumen is intended as “a socially and environmentally responsive structure that adapts to the densities of bodies, heat, and sunlight.” To do that, the studio will weave together high-tech fabrics (solar-active and photo-luminescent yarn) using robotic technology, creating cone-like shapes suspended from a larger canopy. The piece will look different by day and night, when it offers a sort of phosphorescent glow—hence, the “lumen” of the title.

Even better: those pieces will be equipped with misting systems that will respond to the movements of people nearby, so visitors to the exhibit will occasionally be sprayed with cool water—a necessity during the beastly hot days of summer. MoMA PS1, ongoing from June 29.

Carlton "Room Divider" by Memphis Milano

A post shared by curated by Raquel Cayre (@ettoresottsass) on

“Ettore Sottsass: Design Radical”

Memphis design is, once again, having a moment, and the Met Breuer is capitalizing on that with its exhibit devoted to Ettore Sottsass, the Italian architect who’s considered the godfather of the movement.

The exhibit at the Met, though, isn’t merely an overview of the quirky, colorful ’80s style that Sottsass is most closely associated with; it’s a deep dive into his career, from his early works in Milan to iconic pieces like the Carlton room divider.

Even better for design nerds: The Met Breuer will be selling “limited edition items designed by Sottsass, members of Memphis, and contemporary artists inspired by Memphis,” so now’s the time to stock up on all the squiggly-line home decor of your dreams. The Met Breuer, July 21–October 8.