As part of a major renovation of the Museum of the City of New York, Cooper Joseph Studio was tasked with enlivening the core areas of the building. The goal was to infuse the key public spaces with soul and a feeling of engagement. Focusing on the rotunda, entry, and second-floor central open space, Cooper Joseph's intent was to create a bold, unified experience that would draw visitors up the circular stair to the galleries and provide a place to gather and enjoy while visiting the Museum of the City of New York.
The three main elements of the intervention include a large LED light installation, the relocation of the cafe from the basement to an open court overlooking Central Park, and bold graphics that help orient visitors as they make their way through public spaces restricted temporarily by construction barriers.
The light installation “Starlight” consists of 5,243 double-sided pixels hung on 210 tri-partite strands in a circular form 15 feet in diameter and 42 inches deep. Designed in a uniform three-dimensional grid pattern, the geometry seemingly changes as the viewer ascends the stairs. Bursts of star patterns change the viewers’ perception, forming perforated veils over the classical architecture. Instead of taking the elevator, visitors are drawn up the stair and congregate on the bench below the light sculpture.
In the relocated café, the use of black and white echoes the restrained palette of the museum’s historic marble interior. A reverse print of the NYC nighttime skyline hides construction, and the dots of the café logo reflect those of Starlight. Together, these pixelated motifs are a modern foil to the classical architecture of the Museum of the City of New York.
Even under typical circumstances, it’s a challenge to navigate this expansive building. But during construction, barriers are erected and moved often, creating a further sense of disorientation. The Cooper Joseph team used arrows and playful wordplay to make it easier to find your way in and—importantly—out. The black and white palette relates to the historic context.
In a separate project as part of a signage program for the renovation, Pentagram created a special installation of environmental graphics for the museum’s sets of back stairs. The graphics help turn the secondary staircases into destinations on par with the historic curving stairs in the museum lobby. An interior tower of words and pictures celebrating New York, the graphics fill nearly every inch of wall space in Stairwell B, featuring carefully typeset quotations about New York (from John Adams, Walt Whitman, and E.B. White, among others) and photographs of the city and its people. Carefully selected from the museum’s collection, the oversized historic images open up the space. These include vertiginous views of New York and its landmarks as seen from above and below, and most appropriately, photographs that incorporate famous staircases in the city, including an image of the vast sea of humanity on the Port Authority Bus Terminal’s escalators in 1955, and one of a snuggling couple on a fire escape in 1946, photographed by Stanley Kubrick.
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“The Starlight installation is a superb use of LED technology. Both atmospheric and visually powerful, it serves as an excellent centerpiece for the central lobby. Today, it is quite expected that LED installations are ‘animated.’ But here, the designers have deftly taken advantage of the natural movement of ascending the stairs to give the visitor a constantly changing perspective of this suspended device."
“In contrast to this delicate device, the wayfinding and graphics are bold, black, and architectural in scale. With black and white being the dominant graphic statement, this overall program is a very contemporary expression in an historic building. I love everything about this project.”
Cooper Joseph Studio (Rebranding the Core): Chris Cooper, Wendy Evans Joseph, (principals in charge); Chris Good, Wonwoo Park, Greg Evans (design team)
Pentagram (Stairwell B): Michael Bierut (art director, designer), Britt Cobb (designer)
Rebranding the Core: Studio 1Thousand (lighting)
Stairwell B: Ennead Architects (architects), Brandston Partnership (lighting)
Rebranding the Core: RUSH Design (lighting installation), Make Product Development Inc. (café), Full Point Graphics (vinyl graphics)
Stairwell B: Mega Media Concepts (primary fabricator), 3M (vinyl film)