Deco and Beyond: Design/Architecture Talks and Tours in NYC

By Alison Durkee

This summer, visitors and NYC residents alike can escape back to the freewheeling fun and elegant splendor of the 1920s by making a trip to the Cooper Hewitt Museum’s Jazz Age exhibition. The exhibition, which runs through August 20, celebrates the “creative explosion” of the 1920s, representing the decade’s culture through stunning design. Check out the Cooper Hewitt’s stunning display–and delve even deeper into the era and world of design–with these upcoming design and Jazz Age events.

Textile, Tissu Simultané no. 46 (Simultaneous Fabric no. 46), 1924; Designed by Sonia Delaunay (French b. Russia, 1885–1979); Cooper Hewitt, Smithsonian Design Museum; Museum purchase through gift of Friedman Benda, Elaine Lustig Cohen, Ruth Kaufmann, Patricia Orlofsky and from General Acquisitions Endowment Fund, 2012-2-1; Photo: © Smithsonian Institution

In conjunction with the Cooper Hewitt’s main Jazz Age exhibition, the museum is also hosting another exhibition celebrating Art Deco design. Jeweled Splendors of the Art Deco Era, which runs through August 27, celebrates Deco design through its installation of over 100 intricate objects from the era. For those wanting to get even deeper into the Jazz Age spirit, the museum will also offer two evenings of jazz music from the Julliard Jazz Trio and Ensemble on July 27 and August 17, as part of the museum’s Cocktails at Cooper Hewitt series.

Those looking to explore more about the early 20th century outside of the Cooper Hewitt are also in luck. Further up Fifth Avenue, the Museum of the City of New York is putting World War I-era design center stage through their exhibition Posters and Patriotism (through October 9), which showcases designs made by New Yorkers as part of the war effort. To get a deeper look at the exhibition, join the Art Deco Society of New York, who will offer a private exhibition tour on August 12. The New-York Historical Society will also have several design-themed events to mark WWI’s 100th anniversary, including a look at the war’s impact on American fashion (July 21) and World War I New York (July 28), which centers on the city’s role during the war and the enduring monuments and memorials that were designed to commemorate it. The spirit of the 1920s and 1930s also continues to live on in the city’s Art Deco architecture, which New Yorkers can get a closer look at on upcoming Art Deco tours of the Upper-Upper West Side (August 6) and Washington Heights (August 20).

Much has happened in the world of design since the Jazz Age came to an end–and New Yorkers have plenty of chances to learn about it this summer. Celebrate design’s role in gender expression and female empowerment at Women, Design, and Empowerment on July 28, or delve into the world of fashion with a conversation between New York Times fashion director Vanessa Friedman and Museum of Arts and Design exhibition curator Hazel Friedman on July 20. Over at the Museum of Modern Art, visitors can try their hand at architecture design at the People’s Studio (through October 1), an interactive installation in conjunction with MoMA’s current Frank Lloyd Wright exhibition. The museum will also offer special design-themed workshops, including a graphic design workshop inspired by Wright’s work (July 27) and a workshop centered on the design-centric toys that influenced Wright made by Friedrich Froebel (August 10).

Drawing, Study for Maximum Mass Permitted by the 1916 New York Zoning Law, Stage 4, 1922; Designed by Hugh Ferriss (American, 1889–1962); Cooper Hewitt, Smithsonian Design Museum; Gift of Mrs. Hugh Ferriss, 1969-137-4; Photo: Matt Flynn © Smithsonian Institution

Of course, some of the best designs in New York City are its buildings themselves, and New Yorkers can celebrate the city’s building designs by joining one of several upcoming architecture-themed tours. Head uptown for an architectural walking tour of Columbia University (July 22), or learn about the evolution of one of the city’s greatest artistic icons on a tour exploring the development of Lincoln Center (July 29). Further downtown, discover some of the city’s newest developments on a tour of the Far West Village and West Chelsea (July 30), which includes the High Line and Hudson River Park, or join the Prospect Heights Brainery for an urban design-themed walking tour of the Meatpacking District and West Village on August 15.

Outside of Manhattan, learn about the Dutch-American architecture of the Lefferts Historic House in Prospect Park (August 13), or learn more about the designer behind Prospect Park–and Central Park–itself with a screening and discussion celebrating Frederick Law Olmsted (July 24). Design lovers can also head to the Bronx to tour the Cary Leeds Tennis Center (July 25), which won the 30th Annual Award for Excellence in Design by the NYC Public Design Commission.

Taking in the city’s architecture can be an exercise in observation, with plenty of hidden details waiting to be discovered. Improve your city-spotting skills by joining Open House New York for a conversation dedicated to observation with author and professor Alexandra Horowitz on July 27. Of course, for longtime New Yorkers, many of the spots and details that were once worth observing have long since vanished. Those longing for the New York of old can join Vanishing New York author Jeremiah Moss for a book launch and conversation on August 3.

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