I visited The New Museum, located in the Bowery on Manhattan. I had seen photos of the museum before our tour, and I was skeptical about the building because I have seen numerous buildings with “innovative” modern architectural designs destroy neighborhoods with cement walls or an overbearing scale.
From about a block away my concerns grew as I saw the stacked boxes of the museum grow into the sky. The shiny metal face of the museum appeared stark against the older brick buildings in the Bowery—a perfect representational fit for the innovative art housed at the New Museum.
Once on the sidewalk outside the entrance, I found that the museum worked seamlessly into the neighborhood from street level. The front wall was almost entirely glass, with a section set aside for a window display (which was being set up during my visit). The first floor sat flush to the sidewalk, so no ramps or stairs separated the inside visitors from the outside.
Visitors were thus able to flow freely into the first level of the building—which the museum charges no admission for. The glass windows provided a level of visual interactivity that worked with the museum’s current running
The exhibit focused on visitor’s senses through interactive exhibits like televisions that blinked in succession, a vial of human pheromones and empty pill capsules (with accompanying water for those who needed it). Visitors could whoosh down a two-story slide, float naked in a pool of body-temperature salt water and ride a mirrored Italian trapeze.
The walls in the interior of the building were painted a pure white, like many museums, and very few architectural details were visible. Instead of creating a cold space, the bare design allowed the curator to place the focus on the experience exhibition, and even included details like a television of floating bubbles in the elevator that gave off a weird sense of movement as they changed speed as you rode to a different floor.
In addition to inviting visitors in, the open facade of the building gave museum-goers an ethereal experience. Standing beneath a 6-foot mushroom and looking out into Manhattan? Even the Willy Wonka would find this unusual.