Cooper-Hewitt, National Design Museum is
housed in a nontraditional space. As a class, work
on transforming your classroom space into a gallery. What items and materials would be needed?
What items should be displayed in the space? How
should the furniture in the room be rearranged?
cious, comfortable, and light-filled home in which
to raise their young daughter, Margaret. The house
was also planned as a place where Carnegie, after
his retirement in 1901, could oversee the philanthropic projects to which he would dedicate the
final decades of his life. From his private office in
the mansion, Carnegie donated money to build free
public libraries in communities across the country,
and to the improvement of cultural and educa-
Interior, grand staircase. Exterior, gardens, Cooper-
Hewitt, National Design Museum. Photo courtesy of
Cooper-Hewitt, National Design Museum.
The Carnegie Mansion, first completed in 1902,
was redesigned to become a museum in 1976.
What changes do you think needed to be made?
How does a building meant for three people function differently from a building meant to be visited by hundreds of people?
The mansion is located on Fifth
Avenue across the street from Central
Park. It was designed by the architec-
tural firm of Babb, Cook & Willard in
the solidly comfortable style of a Geor-
gian country house. When Carnegie
purchased the land for the house, in
1898, he purposely bought property far
north of where his peers were living.
Carnegie came from a working-class
upbringing in Scotland and Pennsyl-
vania and he wanted a more modest
house. Because he purchased property
so far north, he was able to build his
home in what was considered a
middle-class neighborhood at the time. The rela-
tively open space allowed him to build a large
private garden—one of the only ones in Manhat-
tan—that is still a beautiful, restful oasis today.
The building and the Carnegies had a tremendous
impact on the surrounding neighborhood, which
appropriately came to be known as Carnegie Hill.
The house is a fascinating study in innovative
design. Completed in 1902, it was the first private
residence in the United States to have a structural
steel frame and one of the first in New York to
have a residential Otis passenger elevator (now
tional facilities in Scotland and the
SchoolArts October 2008
Cooper-Hewitt, National Design Museum collects
and exhibits the best examples of design. As a
class, make your own design exhibition. Choose
objects in your classroom, school, or home that
you feel represent good design. Write a label for
each object in the exhibition explaining why it is
an example of good design.
Kim Robledo-Diga is school programs manager at the
Cooper-Hewitt, National Design Museum.
Barbara Pierce Bush is education programs assistant at
the Cooper-Hewitt, National Design Museum.
The building received landmark status in
1974, and in 1976 reopened as the Cooper-Hewitt,
National Design Museum, Smithsonian Institution. Today the house is an extraordinary reminder
of the era when Fifth Avenue was lined with the
mansions of the nation’s most affluent families.
in the collection of the Smithsonian’s National
Museum of American History in Washington,
DC). Another innovation was the inclusion of both
central heating and a precursor to air-conditioning.
In the cellar, a pair of enormous twin boilers ran
on coal that was transferred from a storage bin to
the furnace by a coal car that traveled over a miniature railroad track. The Carnegies worked closely
with their architects to make sure that every detail
of the design was carefully considered. Beveled yellow bricks were placed in front of the entrances so
that horses would not slip as they pulled carriages
up to the front door, massive blocks of pink granite
were laid as pavement along the sidewalks, and a
beautiful iron fence surrounded the site to enclose
the back garden.